Background Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains have become common causes of skin and soft tissue infections (SSTI) among previously healthy people, a role of methicillin-susceptible (MSSA) isolates before the mid-1990s. We hypothesized that, as MRSA infections became more common among S. aureus infections in the community, perhaps MSSA infections had become more important as a cause of healthcare-associated infection. Methods We compared patients, including children and adults, with MRSA and MSSA infections at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) from all clinical units from July 1, 2004-June 30, 2005; we also compared the genotypes of the MRSA and MSSA infecting bacterial strains. Results Compared with MRSA patients, MSSA patients were more likely on bivariate analysis to have bacteremia, endocarditis, or sepsis (p = 0.03), to be an adult (p = 0.005), to be in the intensive care unit (21.9% vs. 15.6%) or another inpatient unit (45.6% vs. 40.7%) at the time of culture. MRSA (346/545) and MSSA (76/114) patients did not differ significantly in the proportion classified as HA-S. aureus by the CDC CA-MRSA definition (p = 0.5). The genetic backgrounds of MRSA and MSSA multilocus sequence type (ST) 1, ST5, ST8, ST30, and ST59 comprised in combination 94.5% of MRSA isolates and 50.9% of MSSA isolates. By logistic regression, being cared for in the Emergency Department (OR 4.6, CI 1.5-14.0, p = 0.008) was associated with MRSA infection. Conclusion Patients with MSSA at UCMC have characteristics consistent with a health-care-associated infection more often than do patients with MRSA; a possible role reversal has occurred for MSSA and MRSA strains. Clinical MSSA and MRSA strains shared genotype backgrounds.