Skip to Content

Our legacy

Read more about our history and how we evolved to become the hospital serving you today.

Our legacy: Innovating medicine

Our story starts with two great hospitals – St. Luke’s Hospital, which admitted its first patient on June 27, 1881; and Presbyterian Hospital, which opened in 1926.

From the earliest days of “modern healthcare,” the idea of a community hospital innovating medicine was something new.

But the founders of Presbyterian Hospital set out to create a new kind of community hospital, one that pursued cutting edge research and care.

As early as the 1920s, our founders introduced state-of-the-art X-ray machines, and cancer patients benefited from new radiation treatments.

The early Presbyterian Hospital also featured an operating theater with six major and two minor operating rooms, two maternity delivery rooms and the most current physician scrub rooms.

In 1933, St. Luke’s opened its cancer clinic – the first center in the Rocky Mountain Region, and one of the first centers of its kind in the U.S., dedicated exclusively to the treatment of cancer.

In 1961, St. Luke’s opened the region’s first Intensive Care Unit. Presbyterian followed the same year with one of its own. The Intensive Care Unit joined the Emergency Room as highly specialized arms of the hospital, each providing critically needed, life-saving care.

The history of P/SL

Helicopters, which had been used during the Korean War to transport wounded soldiers from the front lines to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, were adapted to post-war civilian use in Denver – brainchild of Fred Schoonmaker, MD, who in 1971 was the head of the Cardiology Department at St. Luke’s.

In March of 1971, a group of St. Luke’s surgeons converted one of the hospital’s surgical suites to a Clean Room. This special operating environment allowed surgeons to institute additional safeguards to protect patients during especially infection-prone orthopedic and chest surgeries.

Buoyed by the success of their two-year pilot program, the group of doctors was able to obtain a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to construct a state-of-the-art Laminar Flow Clean Room, complete with helmets and fully enclosed astronaut-style suits (this type of suit is still in use today).

NASA provided the funding; Martin Marietta executed the blueprints and St. Luke’s saw a reduction in post-operative infection from 9% to less than 0.5%.

A decade later, the first kidney transplant surgery was performed at St. Luke’s Hospital in 1985, and three years later, its first heart transplant.

In 1991, Presbyterian Hospital performed its first bone marrow transplant, welcoming in an era of new hope for patients with cancer and blood disorders. And in 2003, HCA (Hospital Corporation of America) and HealthONE-Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center brought robotic surgery to Denver and the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions. Our place in history is ever evolving, but we will always focus on advancing medicine to better serve our patients and their loved ones.

A tradition of nursing excellence at P/SL

In February of 1892, 17 young, bright women blazed a trail for HealthONE-Presbyterian/ St. Luke’s Medical Center (P/SL) as the first class of the St. Luke’s Hospital Nursing School. In celebrating P/SL’s 125th Anniversary, we pay tribute to these early St. Luke’s nurses and their present-day P/SL colleagues who are among the best and brightest in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions.

St. Luke’s first nursing class graduated in 1894 to monthly salaries of $8 and primary job responsibilities including managing the wards, cooking, and cleaning the hospital. On-the-job-training really defined the two-year St. Luke’s nursing program in the 1890s, with more academic studies and rotation into specialties, such as obstetrics and surgery, introduced in the early 1900s. Presbyterian Hospital joined the business of training nurses in 1925, one year prior to opening the hospital’s doors. Forming partnerships outside Presbyterian to provide valuable cooperative training opportunities, Presbyterian set the stage for many future nurse training partnerships including a very successful present-day partnership with Regis University.

Presbyterian and St. Luke’s nurses served in traditional roles during World War II, but the wars in Korea and Vietnam helped usher in new responsibilities.

Following the wars, nurses became more involved as partners in total patient care gaining prescriptive authority and receiving more respect and appreciation for their important role.

Today’s P/SL nurses recall other major mid-century changes, specifically the advent of disposable plastics such as gloves and syringes. Boiling tubes for sterilization a thing of the past, nurses could now focus on patient care.

Internal procedural changes moved nurses beyond administering medication or treatments. New working environments now allow nurses to take more responsibility for providing total patient care – an innovation that’s taken place at P/SL over the last 30 years.

Presbyterian and St. Luke’s eventual three-year nursing diploma programs merged in 1982, then closing in 1986 as the trend toward four-year bachelor of science in nursing degrees increased.

P/SL nurses are highly trained with an average of 29 percent nationally certified RNs and an impressive 15, 25 and 50 percent master’s prepared in the areas of wound healing, diabetes management and hyperbaric oxygen unit, respectively. This training is put to good use, as every day at P/SL presents a challenging environment to nurses.

The hospital’s world-class Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, among others, bring the sickest patients in the region to P/SL where our nurses’ education and experience help influence shorter stays and quicker recovery times.

Focus on diseases and conditions

At Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center (P/SL), we have a tradition of caring for the most critically ill patients, and we thought it interesting to look back at some of the serious diseases and conditions that have challenged the top medical minds here over the last 125 years.

In 1881, tuberculosis, silicosis (a serious lung disease) and pneumonia were prevalent among Denver area and regional residents. St. Luke’s Hospital treated these patients along with women who, at the time, faced serious risks related to routine childbirth.

Doctors at St. Luke’s also treated patients for a widespread Spanish flu pandemic in late 1918 and early 1919. While many lives were saved, all told, this largest flu pandemic in world history claimed the lives of about 8,000 Colorado residents – nearly two percent of the national death toll.

Tuberculosis persisted in the Denver area as Presbyterian Hospital opened its doors in 1926. The development of an effective antibiotic in the 1940s had a significant impact on tuberculosis, helping us save more lives.

In the early 1930s, St. Luke’s Hospital opened one of the first cancer clinics in the country to address the growing problem of this pervasive disease. Time Magazine featured cancer on its cover the same year naming cancer the most baffling of the major disease issues at the time. Today, P/SL remains a leading comprehensive regional Cancer Center, serving as the region’s leading center for blood malignancies and disorders, as well as for solid tumor and pediatric cancer.

By the 1970s, diabetes became a serious focus for P/SL when diabetic patients checked in to the hospital for a week of education about how to live with the disease. Today we offer one of the most comprehensive outpatient education and treatment programs available.

In the early 1980s, HIV/AIDS emerged as a serious infectious disease, and P/SL infectious disease specialists started providing advanced care for patients affected locally. The disease peaked in diagnosis and death rates in the mid-1990s, but it’s far from eradicated. Thanks to ongoing education programs and continually evolving treatment options available at P/SL, we are working to improve the quality of life for people with HIV/AIDS.

During the mid-1980s, treating kidney disease through transplantation became another specialty at P/SL, ushering in a new era for the hospital as a major transplant center.

Even before our doors opened in 1881, heart disease was a major health issue - still ranking as the top cause of disease-related death among Americans. Today, the Advanced Cardiac Center at P/SL is known as a major heart hospital, recognized several times over by the American Heart Association for excellence and for its success in implementing a higher standard of cardiac care that effectively improves treatment of patients hospitalized with heart disease.

Since delivering our first baby in 1882 at St. Luke’s Hospital, we have focused on providing exceptional baby care. Today, P/SL offers the region’s most advanced maternal-fetal care, focusing on rare conditions that put mothers and their developing babies at high-risk. The Rocky Mountain Hospitals for Children at P/SL's 84-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is the largest in the Region.

While the tools are ever changing and our ability to care for patients is always advancing, one thing remains constant - putting our patients first, with quality, respect, safety, and teamwork.