The growth of Lafayette General Medical Center over the past half-century has mirrored the growth of the community: from a modest sanitarium to a modern medical center that doubles as a teaching hospital.

And now, with nearly half of the babies born last year in Lafayette Parish taking their first breath at Lafayette General, the hospital will be growing again, adding 18 beds to accommodate the demand for its labor and delivery services.

The expansion will add six labor and delivery rooms, six mom-and-baby patient suites and six neonatal intensive care unit beds.

In 2012, the hospital delivered 35 percent of the babies born in the parish, said Patrick Gandy, the medical center’s CEO.

“Fast-forward to 2014 and we delivered 45 percent of the babies in Lafayette Parish,” he said.

The announcement of the expansion came Wednesday as the hospital marked the 50th anniversary of its site in the Oil Center.

Lafayette General Hospital opened April 15, 1965, and admitted its first 28 patients, who transferred from the Lafayette Sanitarium on St. John Street.

“The 28 patients who came here 50 years ago would experience what was the beginning of the evolution of health care in Acadiana,” Gandy said.

Lafayette General Health President and CEO David Callecod pondered what patients must have thought when they were first rolled into the new seven-story hospital after their stay in the sanitarium, which had its emergency department on the front porch and no in-room bathrooms.

Lafayette General continues to remain on the forefront in patient care, and over the years, the hospital was the first in the community to perform open heart surgery and craniotomy (a surgical removal of part of the skull), helping it to “set the foundation for the premier facility we are today,” Callecod said.

And next week, the hospital will acquire robotic-assisted brain surgery technology. “We will be the second hospital in the United States with this advancement,” Gandy said.

Fifty years ago, John Lee Morgan helped transfer the 28 patients who made the short trek from St. John Street to the then-new Lafayette General Hospital. Morgan had worked at the Lafayette Sanitarium for a year as an orderly. For the past 50 years, he’s worked at Lafayette General Medical Center, where he now is a case technician working with urology patients who need surgery.

“I’ve seen all the changes that have been made,” Morgan said.

Callecod also recognized former employee and current volunteer Carolyn Prejean, a nurse who worked 52 years for the hospital, starting at the sanitarium, and is now a pastoral care volunteer at the medical center.

“The changes are wonderful to see,” Prejean said.

Two years ago, the medical center became a teaching hospital through its management takeover of the former University Medical Center, now University Hospital & Clinics.

As part of its anniversary ceremony, hospital officials buried a time capsule, to be opened in 2065, enclosed with historical photos and other memorabilia chronicling the medical center’s growth over the past 50 years.

In recent years, the hospital received a $70 million modern face-lift of its exterior and an interior renovation that involved enlarging patient rooms among other improvements. A more recent $52.5 million expansion involved construction of new surgery suites, a larger and more efficient emergency department and a new parking garage.

An estimated $8 million renovation to add 18 beds will begin in June and continue through December on the second floor.

Sometime next year, the hospital also plans to renovate and expand its chapel, which is funded by a donation of $300,000 from the hospital’s Ladies Auxiliary, the “Pink Ladies” who operate the hospital’s gift shop.

The chapel, about the size of a patient’s room, will be doubled in size.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.