Sister Bridget McCarthy: A witness to the evolution of health care

image of sister bridget

This year Mercy San Juan Medical Center celebrates its 50th anniversary. As part of that celebration we are profiling individuals who have had an impact on the hospital and the patients it serves.

Sister Bridget McCarthy, a registered nurse and longtime health care leader, has witnessed health care transform in the Sacramento region over her lifetime. When she moved to California from Ireland as a young woman joining the Sisters of Mercy, there was just one Mercy hospital serving the community - Mercy General. "It's remarkable to think that in just 50-some years, health care and the need for it has changed so much," she marvels.

One of the first big steps in that change happened when Mercy San Juan Medical Center opened its doors in 1967, becoming the region's second hospital sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy.

"The Sisters of Mercy saw that there was a growing need for health care services in the north area," Sister Bridget says. "We were able to acquire a piece of land on Coyle Avenue that had previously been a sheep farm. I remember driving with some other Sisters when construction was about to begin and there was not much there - a few houses nearby, but that was it."

When Mercy San Juan opened, it was quite different from the multi-specialty, high technology facility it is today. "At that time, the health care needs were quite basic," Sister Bridget explains. "There wasn't much technology and so Mercy San Juan was a small, simple community hospital."

Even though it was considered a small community hospital when it opened, Sister Bridget recalls one way that Mercy San Juan was unique for that era: It was designed by renowned architect Gorden Friesen, known for patient-focused design. "Before Friesen, all of the supplies in a hospital were in one central location. One of the hallmarks of Friesen's designs was having space outside each patient's room, making it more efficient for nurses to provide care. Mercy San Juan was equipped with an intercom system through the entire hospital, and also had a pneumatic tube system that would move medications and other items from pharmacy or lab to the ICU or to any unit throughout the hospital. At that time, that was very new and state of the art."

Sister Bridget experienced the efficiency of Friesen's design first hand in 1974 when she transferred from Mercy General to Mercy San Juan. She would spend six years there, providing patient care in the ICU and eventually becoming the unit manager.

"Patient care was so much more basic at that time. We didn't have cardiac monitors on the wall - they were pushed around on a cart to each patient bedside However I do recall assisting physicians on certain procedures that were being done for the first time - and now those procedures are considered quite basic. Looking at the care provided at all our hospitals today, it is really remarkable how far technology has come. However, I hasten to add that the care still continues to be delivered with great compassion and kindness."

At Mercy San Juan, the evolution of technology has played a large role in the evolution of the hospital. From the 2000 opening of the Level II Trauma Center to the Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that treats some of the region's tiniest patients, Mercy San Juan has continued to meet community need by staying at the forefront of medical technology.

Sister Bridget, who currently serves as Vice President of Mission Integration for Dignity Health, says the consistent thread throughout the past 50 years has been Mercy San Juan's continued commitment to meeting the needs of the community.

"The goal of the Sisters and of the hospital, from day one, has always been to provide the very best possible care to everyone, regardless of the ability to pay. It is part of our healing ministry to this community."

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