75 years ago, Ochsner Clinic charted a new course for health care in New Orleans
On Jan. 2, 1942, Ochsner Clinic opened its doors across Prytania Street from Touro Infirmary. It may not have seemed like an auspicious beginning, but the fact that it opened at all was a major achievement because much of the city’s medical establishment was appalled at the idea of a group practice.
Ochsner Health System has grown to become Louisiana’s biggest not-for-profit health system. A staff of 1,100 doctors working in about 90 subspecialties treated about 670,000 patients last year, according to Ochsner records.
- When the institution was being formed, its five founders — Drs. Alton Ochsner, Edgar Burns, Guy Caldwell, Francis LeJeune and Curtis Tyrone — were regarded as traitors in some medical circles. In the spring of 1941, a messenger dropped off a bag containing 30 dimes — a clear reference to Judas Iscariot — at each man’s home.
- An early Ochsner patient was actor Gary Cooper, who needed to get a hernia repaired so he could take on a movie that required strenuous stunt work. The surgery worked, and Cooper was cleared to make “High Noon”; he won his second Oscar for his performance.
- After World War II, Ochsner Clinic took over Camp Plauché, an Army medical facility near the East Bank approach to the Huey P. Long Bridge in what is now Elmwood. Because the campus comprised one-story frame buildings, it acquired the nickname “Splinter Village.”
- The institution moved into its headquarters at 1516 Jefferson Highway in 1954.
- Ochsner surgeons performed the institution’s 500th heart transplant in 2000.
Ochsner’s reach is far-flung, with 30 hospitals in Louisiana and Mississippi that the health system owns or manages, or with which it has an affiliation. Last year, it treated patients from every state and about 80 countries.