By Chris Baldwin
George P. Mitchell, the incredibly forward-thinking founder of The Woodlands understood the importance of having top notch medical facilities in his vision of creating a Live, Work, Play, Learn and Pray sustainable community. It is a vital component of The Woodlands to provide care for all stages of life, from pediatrics, family medicine, geriatrics and specialized services.
Mitchell proved to be instrumental in the opening of the community’s first hospital – The Woodlands Hospital – in 1985 (now known as Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center) and stepped in again in 2009 when the hospital stood on the verge of bankruptcy.
“I believe George Mitchell actually guaranteed $16 million of the $20 million (in loans) it took to build that first hospital,” Steve Sanders, the former longtime CEO of Memorial Hermann The Woodlands who worked for the hospital system for 32 years. “So George Mitchell was very instrumental from the beginning.”
With The Woodlands Development Company and Howard Hughes prioritizing medical, it has grown into a world-class medical hub north of Houston. Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, St Luke’s Health-The Woodlands Hospital, St Luke’s Health-Lakeside Hospital, Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital and MD Anderson The Woodlands give The Woodlands region an extensive roster of hospitals that few communities of any size can match.
“It’s turned into a major medical center which was the original vision,” Sanders says.
In Sanders’ expert estimation, two items set the table for this medical community to continue to thrive and succeed — the creation of a strong surgical program and Howard Hughes continuing to make medical and healthcare a priority, having recently built MD Anderson The Woodlands, Memorial Hermann Primary Care Center and Creekside Park Medical Plaza.
It is all part of making George Mitchell’s original vision for The Woodlands a continuing reality. With The Woodlands in its 50th anniversary year (The Woodlands officially opened on October 19, 1974), this is a community whose residents do not have to leave the area to receive some of the best health care in the world.
“With a long list of accolades, top rankings and recognitions for all these hospital systems, it is easy to see that no matter what stage you are in life, The Woodlands has an array of health care options to fit your specific needs that are convenient and close to home,” says Jim Carman, President of the Houston Region for Howard Hughes.
The Woodlands community has enthusiastically welcomed these hospitals with a fervor that Sanders, whose father was a hospital CEO before him (most prominently at Hospital Metropolitan in San Antonio), never really saw before or since.
“It was huge,” Sanders remembers. “We did a big grand opening of that hospital and had a great turnout. I couldn’t believe it myself. It was unbelievable. And then we went and did another expansion and that was outstanding.”
An important part of The Woodlands’ medical vision from the beginning centered around the idea that the foundational hospital should not be a for-profit hospital. This came up again when the original hospital in The Woodlands later faced a possible bankruptcy.
“We wanted to make sure it never fell into for-profit hands,” Sanders says. “And there were a lot of for-profit hospitals in the area that wanted that hospital.”
Some things need to be community centered. Medical care in The Woodlands started that way — and largely continues on that vein today. When that first hospital opened and the crowd turned out for that 1985 celebration with George Mitchell taking to the podium, in what still was a very young community at the time, the stage started getting set.
Having a hospital of its own helped set The Woodlands apart from other new communities in Texas. It became a badge of honor that’s even more difference making today.
“It was the only hospital at the time,” Sanders says. “So it was extremely important. It has been built since into a multi-facility center. It has grown tremendously.”
The Woodlands is recognized as a cultural arts hub — home to one of the largest collections of public art for a community of its size and the annual The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival. It also stands out as music center — with top artists performing at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, one of the top-ranked amphitheaters in the world, its own symphony and intimate live music shows. It is already a recognized sports destination — home to the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN TEXAS North American Championship, the annual Insperity Invitational (PGA Champions Tour) and the Chevron LPGA Championship, one of the LPGA Tour’s major championships. On a daily basis, more people commute into The Woodlands for work than out these days for good reason.
What many don’t realize is that the hospital growth in The Woodlands and the community’s emergence as a medical hub helped make much of that possible.
Steve Sanders, who worked in the hospital world for nearly four decades, considers The Woodlands’ run the highlight of his career. “It was very gratifying,” Sanders says, “I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I was there. The people are just outstanding.”
The Woodlands always has been a special place, with visionaries making more and more possible.
Many thanks to The Woodlands 50th Anniversary Sponsors:
FOUNDING – Howard Hughes
LEGACY – Woodforest National Bank
HERITAGE – Waste Connections Inc.
GOLD – Entergy Texas, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital
SILVER – SVN/JBeard Real Estate, The John Cooper School
PRODUCER – The Woodlands Township