The history of St. Tammany Health System

17 Aug.,2022


circo electric bed

Those hoping to clap eyes on traces of the original building from 1954 are out of luck. None of that structure exists any longer.

“None. Zero. It’s all gone,” Portie said.

For the record, its lobby faced Tyler Street and was located roughly in the area of the outdoor fountain and Employee Brick Pathway outside today’s hospital chapel, just northwest of the current hospital’s main entrance. If you sit on one of the park benches near the water’s edge, you’ll be sitting right about where patients in 1954 would have waited to be seen by a doctor or nurse.

The two-story building that went up as part of the 1968 expansion is still in use; it’s the oldest existing part of today’s hospital facility, although few people likely realize how old it is without being told. It’s been renovated and modernized multiple times, Portie said, always with an eye toward blending it seamlessly with the rest of the hospital.

Today, it houses the hospital’s Radiology Department, among other departments.

But even if everything else has changed since the hospital first rose along Tyler Street, one thing definitely hasn’t: its commitment to the people of St. Tammany Parish.

“Even from that very first origin story of Mrs. Core wanting to have family and friends taken care of locally so they didn’t have to drive across the lake, that’s really become the driving force behind the hospital,” said Dr. Patrick Torcson, St. Tammany Health System’s chief medical officer. “The growth of the structure has been done to accommodate the breadth of the services that we need to take care of an expanded population.”

That willingness to invest in the hospital is a credit to the foresight of the hospital’s governing body and leadership over the years, Torcson said. But, he added, credit is also owed to the countless anonymous staffers who have worked diligently to make sure that, as big as the hospital gets, it doesn’t lose that community connection.

“Everybody here is somebody’s neighbor, friend, sister-in-law, brother-in-law,” Torcson said. “It really is a very well-connected community. I think that’s very different from a big-city medical center. We really are caring for our friends, families and neighbors. We see that every day, and I think that contributes to the overall success we have achieved.”

He continued: “It’s truly a symbiotic relationship between the hospital and the community. I think that’s the special sauce. There’s no detachment. This is not an interloping corporate initiative. This is very much an organic part of this community in terms of its growth and role in the community.”

From what he sees of the hospital’s current decision makers, Torcson said the health system is poised to continue its growth over the next 10 or 20 years. Just like the growth it has experienced since 1954, that will likely include expansion of its physical footprint, he said, but it will also mean the continued addition of innovative new services and equipment to benefit the ever-growing community it serves.

As evidence of that commitment, he pointed to the recent investments the health system has made in robotic-assisted surgery, in digital disease management, in cancer care and other clinical areas.

For her part, Coffman said she also sees an opportunity to expand the use of video visits and other in-home healthcare options that began growing exponentially in popularity among local residents with the onset of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Once more, that vision – which started by listening to what the community wanted and then delivering it – dovetails neatly with the mission that has guided the hospital since that tragic rainy night all those decades ago.

“I think what St. Tammany has done extraordinarily well, going back to its roots nearly seven decades ago, is connecting with and hearing the voice of the community,” Coffman said. “Institutionally, there’s a history of listening to our community constituents and reacting and responding to what they’re telling us what the needs truly are.

“When you look back at what was here even in the early '80s when I started here, it was an unassuming two-story hospital with a very small footprint. You really didn’t know unless you saw the signage that it was a hospital. Now, today, not only do we have the extraordinary new wing coming online, but we have a much bigger footprint out in the community, because we wanted to make sure over time that we were able to truly meet the needs where they are.

“And I think we’ve done a great job of that over the years.”

Mike Scott can be reached at