Ben Taub Hospital is a 402 licensed-bed public charity hospital in Houston’s Texas Medical Center and a Level 1 trauma center. It first opened on May 26, 1963, and the current building opened on January 12, 1990. Managed and funded by the Harris Health System (originally the Harris County Hospital District) and staffed by physicians and students from Baylor College of Medicine, the hospital was named after Ben Taub for his service to Houston public hospitals.
Plans for a hospital to replace Jefferson Davis Hospital, an earlier public charity hospital, began in 1949 and continued throughout the 1950s, but controversy over the new hospital’s purpose and location delayed its construction. The city council hired architect Alfred C. Finn, from Finn, Maddox, and Johnson, in 1949 and approved plans for a 750-bed hospital in the Texas Medical Center in 1954. The plans included a diagnostic clinic for pay patients, which local physicians feared would compete with private practices. The clinic plan was removed, but the proposed replacement included research laboratories for Baylor College of Medicine, which generated discontent because of the taxpayer funding. After a standstill, in 1956 the city council hired a hospital expert, Ross Garrett, to make recommendations. Garrett suggested expanding Jefferson Davis Hospital and building a new hospital either in the Texas Medical Center or at the Jefferson Davis site on Allen Parkway; his recommendation caused controversy over the location. Problems at Jefferson Davis necessitated the construction of the new hospital, and in 1958 the city council decided to build in the Texas Medical Center as originally planned, which Ben Taub, Baylor College of Medicine, and the Medical Center board supported. However, the Harris County Medical Society opposed this and argued that the Texas Medical Center location would be inconvenient for patients and that a second public hospital was redundant. They collected 20,000 signatures in a petition and forced a referendum vote on July 26, 1958, a “bitter fight” with substantial campaigning on both sides. Voters approved the location in the Texas Medical Center next to Baylor College of Medicine, but the project was scaled down from the $16.5 million original plan to a $9 million, 375-bed hospital. These plans were approved in 1959, and workers broke ground in 1960. The plans included segregated bathrooms, but these were integrated by the hospital’s opening. The excess bathrooms were converted to physician offices, which had not been included in the hospital design.
Ben Taub Hospital was celebrated as a solution to Houston’s problems with charity care, but controversy continued shortly after its opening. Jan de Hartog’s 1964 book The Hospital, in addition to detailing and condemning the shortcomings of Jefferson Davis Hospital, discussed emerging problems at Ben Taub Hospital, including inadequate supplies and nursing staff. The Harris County Hospital District (which became the Harris Health System) assumed ownership of both Jefferson Davis and Ben Taub hospitals in 1966. From 1963 to 1976 few renovations took place, though the hospital did achieve some notable medical enhancements, including implementing a method of recovering and returning a patient’s lost blood in 1975 and the installation of a CT scanner to evaluate head injuries in 1979.
In 1978 the hospital failed to meet fire and safety codes, which had been updated soon after the hospital opened. The fire inspector granted an approval when the hospital administration presented plans to correct issues such as limited accessible fire escapes, and the hospital spent $23 million on improvements from 1976 to 1982. In 1981 the approval was made conditional because the hospital had not started on some of the planned improvements. Although the architecture firm confirmed the building met all code standards in 1959, in 1982 Hospital District Chairman Quentin Mease said, “Ben Taub Hospital was obsolete the day it opened.” Two new fire escapes were completed in 1983, but by then the hospital district had voted to replace Ben Taub by building a new hospital next door.
The new Ben Taub, a 578-bed, $125 million hospital, opened on January 12, 1990. The old hospital stood unoccupied, which estimates suggested would be cheaper than demolition. In 2004 the Harris County Hospital District board voted to demolish the original Ben Taub Hospital and build a new outpatient tower, but this was postponed. When a 2014 inspection reported that Ben Taub had too few surgeons and operating rooms to keep its Level 1 trauma status, the hospital developed a $70 million plan to upgrade trauma care, including renovating the old Ben Taub building. The renovated building, called Ben Taub Tower, opened in May 2017. Twenty specialty clinics with the capacity to see 80,000 patients a year moved to the new tower from the hospital. This freed up space in the hospital for the creation of seven new operating rooms and expansion of the eleven existing rooms to double in size with increased technology.
Ben Taub Hospital has won a number of awards, including those for the labor and delivery unit, neurosurgery intensive care unit, cardiology unit, and stroke program. It earned a Baby-Friendly designation in 2015. Kenneth Mattox, chief of staff from 1989 to 2020, was on the list of the Best Surgeons in America five times and coauthored the famous textbooks on trauma surgery Trauma (1988) and Top Knife: The Art & Craft of Trauma Surgery (2005). In 2020 the updated surgical suite was named after Mattox. As of 2022 Ben Taub Hospital continued to be one of the busiest Level 1 trauma centers in Texas and treated more than 80,000 emergency patients a year.
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Ben Taub General Hospital Annual Report 1983 (IC002), McGovern Historical Research Center, Texas Medical Center Library, Houston. Ben Taub Hospital, Harris Health System (https://www.harrishealth.org/locations-hh/Pages/ben-taub.aspx), accessed May 13, 2021. Harris Health History, Harris Health System (https://www.harrishealth.org/about-us-hh/who-we-are/Pages/history.aspx), accessed April 30, 2021. Houston Chronicle, July 13, 1958; May 15, 1963; November 9, 1967; July 31, 1982; August 8, 1982; October 1, 1982; December 10, 1982; August 29, 1984; October 23, 1989; April 5, 2015; August 2, 2015; September 9, 2020. John F. Martinez, “Ben Taub Hospital Surgical Unit Garners National Award for Patient Care,” TMC News, February 5, 2016, Texas Medical Center (https://www.tmc.edu/news/2016/02/ben-taub-hospital-surgical-unit-garners-national-award-for-patient-care/), accessed February 17, 2022. Britni R. McAshan, “Man on a Mission,” TMC News, May 2, 2018, Texas Medical Center (https://www.tmc.edu/news/2018/05/man-on-a-mission-2/), accessed February 17, 2022. Britni R. McAshan, “Old Is New Again: Harris Gives ‘Old Ben Taub’ a Modern Renovation,” TMC News, July 17, 2017, Texas Medical Center (https://www.tmc.edu/news/2017/07/old-new-new-harris-health-gives-old-ben-taub-modern-renovation/), accessed February 17, 2022. Walter H. Moursund, Sr., M.D.. L.L.D, “Medicine in Greater Houston, 1836–1956,” 1958, McGovern Historical Research Center, Texas Medical Center Library, Houston. James A. Tinsley, “The Texas Medical Center: A History of the Founding Years, 1941–1980,” IC-002, Series 1, Box 19, McGovern Historical Research Center, Texas Medical Center Library, Houston.
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