Former site of St. Mary’s returns to blank slate – Beaumont Enterprise


After almost 90 years of serving Port Arthur, the former site of Christus St. Mary Hospital is back to where it started — a blank slate of opportunity to serve the next generation.

The 400,000-square-foot, 227-bed hospital was closed by Christus Southeast Texas Health System at the end of 2019 and was demolished by the beginning of this year, leaving an empty patch of earth on the land donated decades ago to create a modern hospital for the city.

The system was able to put a bow on the closing of St. Mary’s story Wednesday with a ceremony dedicated to transferring the land back to the city and unveiling a new cornerstone monument to mark the legacy of healing that took place on Gates Boulevard for generations.


“As a health system, we are committed to being good stewards,” said Paul Trevino, president and CEO of the health system. “We believe that the donation of this land is a way to honor that commitment.”

Instead of the iconic brown and white buildings that stood on the plot for more than a century, a historical marker and the building’s cornerstone set in 1929 now mark the spot thanks to Christus’ preservation process.

Now that the space is in the hands of the city, its future could have several possibilities, but Port Arthur’s leadership has already agreed that it should be reserved for something that could be as enriching to residents’ lives as St. Mary’s once was.

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“There really hasn’t been any plans at this point, but we know that it has to be something beneficial to the city,” Port Arthur Mayor Thurman “Bill” Bartie said. “That might mean some kind of public service center, or something like that, depending on what the needs are.”

The system had been waiting to dedicate the land on March 17, the 92nd anniversary of its groundbreaking, but a severe thunderstorm scrapped those plans. Instead, the community came together to mark the occasion four days after the anniversary of the hospital’s opening in 1930.

St. Mary Hospital was created after city organizers and benefactors reached out to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in Galveston to open a new 150-bed hospital. The convent originally turned down the proposal since the city already had the Mary Gates Hospital, but the facility’s trustees promised to donate their equipment and building funds for the new structure if it meant creating better services for the public.

After a few decades of growth in both expertise and demand, a 50-bed unit was added to the hospital in 1954 and an intensive-care unit followed in 1966.

A south wing, added in 1983, created more beds and nursery space. It also allowed the hospital to expand emergency services and add specialized nursing units. A rooftop helipad was added.

Christus acquired the hospital and its associated clinics in 1999.

Ten years later, the health system added the first comprehensive women’s center in Port Arthur.

Soon after, in the face of declining admissions and revenue, it transitioned to a short-stay surgical hospital.

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But, even with focus shifting away from extended hospital stays, the hospital on Port Arthur’s west side continued to see more demand for emergency visits and less need for all of its numerous beds.

St. Mary reported fewer than 7,000 admissions between 2013 and 2014, according to the last publicly available community health assessment for St. Mary published by Christus in 2017.

It saw 56,600 emergency-room visits during the same period.

Around 3 in every 10 residents live around the west side of Port Arthur live in poverty and one-third of the population does not have health insurance, according to public health data.

In the aftermath of St. Mary’s closing, Christus said it would continue offering transportation options for patients and focused outreach efforts to let patients know they could continue receiving care at its Mid-County outpatient center.

Christus also reported last summer that nearly three-quarters of the remaining St. Mary staff and administrators at the time of its closure had taken positions at the newly named Christus St. Mary Outpatient Center Mid County on FM 365 and Ninth Avenue.

Just a day before the dedication, Christus announced that both specialists from its affiliated orthopedic offices and primary care physicians from other Mid-County offices would be relocated to a new central facility in Port Arthur.

Trevino said the system was still adapting to changes in modern healthcare so it could ensure patients still have access to talented physicians, but it hasn’t forgotten its mission of charitable service for those in need.

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“Christus will always be a symbol of hope and healing in Southeast Texas, regardless of the ability to pay,” he said. “We understand that we are the safety net system for this area, and we stand by this responsibility.”

jacob.dick@beaumontenterprise.com

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