Providence Sanitorium Opens January 1905


Dr. J.W. Hale was a leader of Waco medicine at the turn of the century, and officed with Drs. Shelton, Foscue, Walker and Wilkes on the second floor over the Miller-Cross Store at Fourth and Austin in 1901. Their group was the first to hire an office nurse (Pearl Lovelace), who managed the office and answered the phones. That year Dr. Hale and a Waco community leader Charles Johnson transported a needy patient all the way to the Touro Infirmary in New Orleans to get the care she needed. In Waco, all medical care was done in a patient’s home, or in a hotel room; there was no hospital. Impressed with the care the patient received, Dr. Hale and Mr. Johnson returned and began to approach Waco business leaders about starting a hospital in Waco.

Mr. Johnson laid out the vision to the Waco Business Men’s Club (what would one day be the Chamber of Commerce), and they sent a committee to the Franciscan Order of Sisters in Galveston to ask for their help, but help wasn’t available at that time. Next Dr. Hale, Mr. Mistrot (later Waco mayor) and Mrs. Luedde went to Dallas and asked members of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul. The Mother Superior told the group they would have to consider it, and the Waco leaders should “trust it to providence.” The Business Men’s Club raised the money for the land ($2500) at 1725 Colcord, and the Daughters of Charity agreed to pay for the building, and the ground was broken April 30, 1903.

On December 19, 1904, the Daughters of Charity admitted their first patient, a young boy with malnutrition. The hospital was dedicated January 11, 1905, and treated 231 patients and performed 102 surgeries the first year. Dr. W. O. Wilkes, a partner of Dr. Hale, served as the first medical chief of staff. The Daughters of Charity made a contract with the City of Waco to care for the indigent sick for 75 cents/day. The next year, Providence became the company hospital for the Katy Railroad, the largest railroad in Texas, which helped Providence build up its patient volume and experience. Also in 1906, the Daughters opened the Providence School of Nursing.

Rima Bishara, M.D.

Rima’s parents were from Lebanon, and brought her to the United States because of war in their country. Working toward and gaining US citizenship engendered in Rima a great appreciation for the freedom and opportunity of this country. Her father did not approve of her desire to be a physician, and her family was not in position to support her education, so she put herself through Loma Linda University School of Medicine with a National Health Service Corps scholarship with an expectation of payback by working in a federal facility. After her training, she went to work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the Fort Worth Penitentiary. It was while she was there she was recruited to come to Waco to start a private internal medicine practice in 1991.

Dr. Bishara became a member of the Board of the American Red Cross chapter in Waco for several years, including serving as Chair. She also volunteered at Talitha Koum, a program that runs a day care center for at risk children born into very disadvantaged environments. After 19 years of meaningful, rewarding solo private medical practice, she was recruited by the VA system for a position at the Waco facility. She loves her patients there, and enjoys the collegiality of VA physicians, and access to colleagues and specialists across the country, though her long term work in Waco makes her able to help her VA patients connect with local private specialists when necessary. She is always ready to help Waco physicians learn about the Waco VA and how to improve communication about clinical matters.

What is an event that shaped your life?

I met Mother Teresa on a trip to Haiti at the end of college. It was an unexpected meeting which occurred at one of the orphanages she had established. To my delight, she spent personal time showing me around the compound and eventually took me to her quarters – a room with a dirt floor, a cot, a desk, and a crucifix on the wall.  She spent time discussing life with me and I was so affected by her message and manner that I asked if there was a place in her organization for me. She said “Rima, your destiny is to become a doctor. You need to go back home and finish your training. You will help many people that way. If someday, God wills it, you might come back here and help. But this is not where you belong right now.” I use her example of service as a goal to this day.

How do you feel about Waco medicine?

A new perspective of medicine emerged when I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness which necessitated extensive treatment. I saw our medical community from the inside out, so to speak. I found a cohesive medical community with open lines of communication between physicians. I also discovered the vibrancy of that community, its focus on excellence in patient care and compassion for the patient. It reignited my passion for medicine and the immense honor of being part of this professional community. As an ancillary benefit, I learned the value of a personal spiritual focus during illness and of having goals in the midst of a host of dizzying medical facts.

What would you like to see happen in Waco’s future?

Fundamentally as physicians, we have more similarities than divisions. We have the privilege of caring for human beings in pain, in distress, and in confusion. Ultimately, medicine is a calling and not just a profession. On the days I focus on the calling, I have a great day. As our profession goes through challenging times, I would like to see increasing physician collaboration to create and design solutions to the technical, political, and societal challenges to medical practice. I would like to see a focus on improving our nation’s health while creating a better environment for the practice of medicine.


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