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Avera Sacred Heart Hospital History & Philosophy

Our History

Avera Sacred Heart Opens in 1897

Avera Sacred Heart Hospital’s commitment to care began more than a century ago when Sacred Heart Hospital first opened its doors on November 4, 1897. The first patient was admitted four days later.

In 1897, Bishop Thomas O’Gorman prevailed upon the Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Convent in Yankton to enter an entirely new field of service; the care of the sick and injured. That challenge was quickly met and the Benedictine Sisters, who had been primarily trained as teachers, soon became nurses. In the beginning, Sacred Heart Hospital was a 30-bed hospital located in a remodeled building that had been erected a decade earlier as a girls’ academy and also used as an Indian school and orphanage.


New Hospital Built in 1912

Due to increasing need for healthcare services for the people of the region, it became evident that a larger, more efficient facility was needed. Ground was broken for a new hospital on October 2, 1912, and the new 80-bed facility wad dedicated in May 1915. More additions were made as the healthcare needs continued to grow.


Benet Home for Nurses Opens in 1949

The construction of the Benet Home for Nurses was completed in May 1949. This new building relieved pressure on the main hospital building and provided living quarters for 170 nurses and students. The nursing school graduated its last class of three-year diploma nurses on August 7, 1964.


Sister James Nursing Home

With the addition of Benet Hall, space was finally available in the hospital to fulfill the Sister’s dream of establishing a unit to provide care for the elderly. The fourth floor was eventually named Sister James Nursing Home in honor of Sister James Souhrada, a Benedictine Sister who devoted her personal and professional life to the service of the elderly.


Gavins Point Dam Dedicated in 1957

The construction of Gavins Point Dam, officially dedicated on August 18, 1957, brought scores of new families to Yankton and Sacred Heart Hospital. At times, all beds were full and patients had to be cared for in the hallways. It was also the Baby Boom era and Sister Blanche would have thirty or more infants in the nursery at one time.

In 1960, the need for expansion was obvious. Hospital officials determined that the old hospital was solidly built and decided to remodel this structure and add another wing. Groundbreaking for the $1.5 million project took place on September 8, 1963. The addition included 64 patient beds, a 24-bassinet nursery, new surgical suite, and intensive care unit and other much needed improvements. The dedication of the L-shaped wing, now named the Benedictine Center, took place on September 5, 1965.


Today's Sacred Heart Hospital Built in 1981

As the needs of the area continued to change, renovations and additions were made again in 1971. Finally, because of ever-increasing safety requirements and government regulations, it became evident that a new hospital building was needed.

The “new” Sacred Heart Hospital, a 144-bed structure, was the third building in the institution’s first 84 years. On November 21, 1981, the first of 85 patients were transferred into the new facility. At this time, there were 60 physicians on active medical staff in addition to over 600 full-time and part-time employees. In January 1981, Yankton’s two physician groups merged and began operation as the Yankton Medical Clinic. In June 1982, the first Computerized Tomography (CT) Scanner was delivered.

Construction of the new hospital made it possible to use the vacated space in the former facility to increase care for the elderly. Between 1981 and 1986, Sister James Nursing Home grew to a total of 113 residents occupying the third and fourth floors of the Benedictine Center. In 1993, Sister James received Medicare certification.


"Heart to Heart We Speak" or "Cor Ad Cor Loquitor" by James Michael Maher

The sculpture located north of the main entry to Avera Sacred Heart Hospital was created by sculptor James Michael Maher from Spearfish, SD. It was presented to the hospital by the Avera Sacred Heart Gift Shop for the lobby courtyard when the front entrance and canopy were built.

Maher carries on a centuries-old tradition of spiritual art in his work. The tender expression of the Father's love in the sculpture speaks the language of the heart and serves to nurture the seeds of faith. The model for the little boy was Jim's son. At the dedication event of the sculpture in 1994, Jim said he developed an emotional tie with the sculpture as it developed. Jesus is shown conversing with a child who sits on his lap. The child's arm is entwined around the back of Jesus in a tender, caring manner. Many visitors, as their family members are in crisis, spend time sitting beside Jesus.


Avera Sacred Heart Adopts New Name in 1996

In 1996, Sacred Heart Hospital became affiliated with the Presentation Health System. In 1997, the Benedictine and Presentation Sisters recognized a need to rename the health system to reflect the health ministries of its partners and the Presentation Health System officially changed their name to Avera Health on June 1, 1998. In September 1998, Sacred Heart officially became Avera Sacred Heart Hospital. The name Avera (rhymes with Sarah) is derived from a Latin word “avere” which means “to be well.”


Avera Sacred Heart Expands Senior Services in 1998

In 1998, Avera Sacred Heart began planning a new project to expand senior services. The dream was finalized in April 1999 when hospital officials announced the purchase of land for a senior living complex. Located on a 40-acre parcel of land overlooking the beautiful scenic Missouri River Valley along Highway 52, the property was purchased from the Benedictine Sisters and was named Majestic Bluffs in honor of the spiritual and geographical influence. Groundbreaking for the senior living community took place on November 10, 1999. In May 2000, 113 residents moved into the new replacement facility for the skilled nursing home, now named Avera Sister James Care Center. Construction was completed on assisted and independent living apartments in 2001. Majestic Bluffs also include eight townhomes located along the picturesque lake and walking path.

On June 1, 2000, seventy-five employees from (Avera) Yankton Care Center were officially welcomed into the Avera Sacred Heart family. The agreement expanded Avera Sacred Heart’s licensed number of long-term care beds from 113 to 187.

In January 2003, the Avera Sacred Heart Rehab & Wellness Institute or RWI (since renamed Avera Surgery Center) opened its doors on the former Benet Hall site. The modern, three story building houses a new Avera Sacred Heart Wellness Center, two therapeutic pools, cardiac and pulmonary rehab, outpatient physical therapy as well as the Garden Spot Café. Physician office space is located on the second floor and is currently occupied by a podiatrist and physiatrist. The first floor of the Surgery Center then became a state-of-the-art Same Day Surgery Center - the only outpatient surgical facility in the Yankton region with physician anesthesiologists and immediate access to the full resources of Avera Sacred Heart Hospital.

Avera Sacred Heart's New Emergency Department opened in 2006

In the Summer of 2006, Avera Sacred Heart's new Emergency Department opened it's doors. The new addition doubled the number of patient rooms and provide the latest in emergency care technology. Patients are now registered at the bedside and ambulance patients arrive in a separate entrance from walk-in patients.

As construction of the new Emergency Department was completed, construction of the new Avera Professional Office Pavilion began and was completed in the summer of 2007. This new 60,000 square-foot facility, located adjacent to the Avera Surgery Center in the center of the Avera Sacred Heart campus houses:

  • Physician offices
  • Avera Sacred Heart Campus of the Sanford School of Medicine of The University of South Dakota - 3rd-year Medical Student program
  • Medical Library
  • 116-seat auditorium conference and meeting rooms
  • Two-story atrium for gatherings and educational events

Our Philosophy

Avera Sacred Heart Health Services' philosophy is based on the Benedictine tradition of the Sacred Heart Monastery, Yankton, S.D. We recognize that health care is a basic human need, and as an institution responding to this need, we believe:

  • That life is a gift from God. Each person's life is of great value and deserves respect in all its stages from conception until death regardless of race, sex, creed, age, disability, or national origin because all are created equal in the image of God;
  • That above all care must be taken of the sick and elderly that they must be served as Christ;
  • That we must witness to each individual we serve, and those with whom we serve, in a way that reflects Christian values and the principles inherent in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Facilities.