City on a hill: A history of urban health care in Milwaukee

In 1863, a small group of Lutheran deaconesses converted a farmhouse on a hill into a hospital for the poor. It grew, became a major urban hospital, then faced financial struggles that led to its closure in 1998. Milwaukee Hospital’s history mirrors that of health care in the United States over the past century and a half. Small organizations dedicated to the poor expanded into massive health care systems that behaved more like businesses than charities. Institutions in poor neighborhoods often could not survive.

1863-1883: Founding years

1884-1902: Early expansion

1903-1923: Emphasizing expertise

1924-1932: Shift to fiscal focus

1933-1942: Third-party payers

1943-1969: Rapid growth

1970-1980: Mergers and acquisitions

1981-1984: Financial strains

1985-1991: Sinai Sam starts

1992-1998: Issues lead to shut-down

1999-2000: Empty Buildings

2001-2014: City on a Hill