A Publication of WTVP

While the Sisters have always cared for all with the greatest care and love, children have held a special place in their hearts.

You have read the story on these pages about The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis and how a small group arrived in Peoria in 1876 and established the core of what would become a major medical center that reaches well beyond central Illinois.

The Sisters’ earliest work in Peoria actually involved children. In early 1880, they cared for 14 orphans at the hospital until other arrangements could be made, and there were many times in the early days that the hospital became like a boarding house for children whose mothers were brought for treatment.

Dr. John Vonachen, considered the first downstate pediatrician, began his practice in 1926 and founded the St. Francis pediatrics department.
“The Sisters were the first to identify the need for separate services for children. They realized you could not medically treat children as small adults—they need specialized care by specially trained medical staff in a special place,” says Dr. Tim Miller, neonatologist.

By 1934, the new pediatrics floor at St. Francis was fully operational—and maxed out with only 35 beds for children. As the polio epidemic of the 1940s took hold, St. Francis became a regional treatment center and acquired two iron lungs. Coinciding with the treatment of polio, the innovation of formal care for premature babies began in 1942 with the establishment of a “premature station,” the forerunner to today’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

In 1952, ground was broken on the St. Francis Children’s Hospital. It opened in 1954 and filled two floors of a new three-story building with 114 pediatric beds, a separate admitting area and accommodations for medical staff. Four more floors were added to the building in the early ‘60s, and in 1966, a new premature station opened with space for 30 infants.

In 1971, St. Francis Hospital and the Peoria School of Medicine (as both were known then) signed an affiliation agreement, establishing teaching faculty and clinical programs between the two, one of the most significant steps in the eventual establishment of Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

The 1980s was a decade of exciting developments. In 1986, Dr. Stephen Bash arrived from Texas and along with Dr. William Albers, the two pediatric cardiologists set about creating the identity for a true children’s hospital which opened a new realm of opportunities for pediatric medical services in Peoria, including the ability to recruit the best pediatricians and pediatric specialists.

January 30, 1990, marked the big day as the formation of Children’s Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center was announced. And the start of a new century meant even more exciting changes, as the vision of a stand-alone building for Children’s Hospital took shape. Initial discussions started in 2002, with ground broken in 2007 on the Milestone Project. The three-year construction project was complete and the ribbon cut on July 16, 2010—Founder’s Day for the Sisters—on the new Children’s Hospital of Illinois, with all inpatient services for children finally under one roof.

“As the only full-service children’s hospital in Illinois outside of Chicago, our hospital-within-a-hospital provides a child-centered, family-friendly environment where children of all ages can receive state-of-the-art medical care close to home, with their families at their sides,” says Dr. Kay Saving, medical director of Children’s Hospital. “Although the Sisters and OSF were always committed to the care of children, the formal development of Children’s Hospital of Illinois has allowed us to recruit a team of over 100 medical and surgical subspecialty physicians and hundreds of highly trained nurses and other caring personnel that can deliver high-quality pediatric services locally and to an expanding geographic region across Illinois.”

We have only scratched the surface of the history that has taken place at Children’s Hospital of Illinois, the lives touched and those saved. You can learn more in a new book available through the Children’s Hospital Foundation. Visit iBi