Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital was founded over 150 years ago, in 1869, thanks to the generous initiative of the Salviati family. Until then, in Italy children were hospitalized in the same rooms as adult patients, without receiving care appropriate to their age. In the twenties of the twentieth century, the Hospital was donated to the Holy See, thus becoming the Pope’s Hospital. After the tragedies of the World War II, Bambino Gesù Hospital underwent a major development process. At the end of the seventies, it was fully integrated into the national healthcare system, and in the following decades, it became a reference center also for scientific research. More than a century and a half after its establishment, it is now recognized as one of the most important international pediatric healthcare centers.
THE BEGINNING OF
In Rome, on March 19, 1869, four girls were hospitalized in a room of a building located in via delle Zoccolette, a small road between the Tiber River and Torre Argentina: they were the first patients of the Hospital, hosted by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who were in charge of the management of the Hospital. The opening of the Hospital was made possible by the Duchess Arabella Fitz James Salviati, who created the conditions for the foundation of a children’s hospital on the model of Paris Hôpital des Enfants Malades. Her husband, Duke Scipio, as well as their children, supported her initiative and, on the occasion of her birthday, gave her a moneybox, so that their savings could be used to support her initiative. The little “dindarolo” (moneybox in Roman dialect) is preserved in the Hospital in a glass case, to commemorate that act of responsibility by children towards other children.
In 1887 the Hospital seat was moved to the Gianicolo Hill due to the new urban plan, which envisaged the construction of the banks of the Tiber River to preserve the new capital of the Kingdom of Italy from floods. The municipality gave one part of the ancient Sant’Onofrio convent to the Duchess Salviati. The works to adapt the building lasted two years, but the activity was never interrupted. In its new location, the Hospital became a point of reference for Roman families and, in 1907, the Hospital reached the milestone of 1,000 hospitalizations.
In the following years, Bambino Gesù Hospital stood out for hosting the children affected by the Messina earthquake in 1908, and by the Avezzano earthquake in 1915; in this same year, King Vittorio Emanuele visited the Hospital for the first time. In 1919, Queen Elena entrusted Maria Salviati, the daughter of Arabella and Scipione, with the management of Villa Iolanda, a summer camp in Santa Marinella, that three years later became the second hospital facility, dedicated to “poor children in need of marine care”.
[Heliotherapeutic treatment in Santa Marinella]
In 1924, the Salviati family donated the Hospital to Pope Pius XI, handing over the future of Bambino Gesù Hospital to the Popes. A new phase began, with the building of different structures, including the “Brady Pavilion”, where the scientific research laboratories dedicated to “children’s diseases” were located, the “SMOM” (Sovereign Military Order of Malta) Pavilion, built thanks to the contributions given by other nations – especially the United States (an ante litteram fund raising initiative) – and the Salviati Pavilion, which is still operating.
[1930 – The General Female Ward]
Unfortunately, the World War II abruptly interrupted the Hospital development process. Those were tragic years. Everything was missing in the Hospital, and the Santa Marinella buidings were expropriated by the nazi-fascist troops. Nevertheless, the Hospital continued its activity and found the strength to answer the call of Pius XII to host and hide the Jews and the victims of political persecution within its walls. During the day, adults disguised themselves as doctors, nurses and stretcher bearers, while children were hosted in the wards, looking like regular patients.
The war left behind deep wounds and scars. For the first time, the Hospital needed financial support to continue its ordinary activities and to renovate the structures and the equipment that had deteriorated over time. The intervention of Pius XII and the contributions by the US Episcopate made it possible for the Hospital to resume its activity. New buildings were erected between the 1950s and 1960s. In 1958, John XXIII visited the Hospital; he was the first Pope to go to the Gianicolo Hill to visit “his Hospital”. Professional training was strengthened too, and in 1960 the School for Children Nurses (today the School of Health Professions Pier Giorgio Frassati) was inaugurated.
The number of children coming from other Italian regions, especially from the south, kept increasing. At the beginning of the seventies, the Hospital was integrated into the regional healthcare system, and in 1978 it was included in the national one. In the same year, Paul VI entrusted Bambino Gesù Hospital with the facilities of the Pontifical Works of Assistance, located on the Lazio coast north of Rome, which were renovated to host a center for the treatment of vertebral deformities and diabetes: the Palidoro facility saw the light.
THE SEARCH FOR
In 1985 the Hospital was recognized as a Scientific Institute for Research, Hospitalization and Health Care. Numerous clinical, research and experimental activities were carried out to find innovative treatments; international collaborations increased, and cooperation missions were activated in developing countries. In 1999, together with other Italian paediatric centers, Bambino Gesù Hospital drew up the first “Charter of the Rights of Children in Hospital”, giving birth to a new style of hospitalization centred on children and their families. In 2006, the Hospital obtained the first accreditation from the JCI (Joint Commission International), the body that certifies excellence in terms of quality and safety of care. Three years later, Bambino Gesù Hospital became a university hospital, with the transfer to the seat of the Chair of Pediatrics of Tor Vergata University. In 2012, the San Paolo facility was inaugurated, where the research laboratories equipped with the latest technologies for gene and cell research were activated two years later. In 2015, the Hospital was recognized by the JCI as an Academic Medical Center, due to its extensive medical training and clinical research activity.
On March 19, 2019, the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella visited the Hospital on occasion of the celebrations for its 150th anniversary, and expressed the deep appreciation and “gratitude of the Republic” for the work done every day in the field of biomedical research and in the care of children. The same year the renovated Baldelli building, located in front of San Paolo facility, was inaugurated, with new spaces dedicated to rare diseases.