Tenant of Healthy Village at Saint Francis Hospital provides services for previously incarcerated women

July 2024

Saint Francis Hospital of Wilmington, Delaware, is helping to support a local nonprofit called the HOPE Commission in its efforts to aid women who have been released from prison as they transition back into the community.

The HOPE Commission's Women's Reentry program is the third and most recent tenant of the Healthy Village at Saint Francis Hospital. The Healthy Village is a space on Saint Francis' campus that the hospital has been repurposing over the past few years that social service organizations can use to meet the needs of poor and vulnerable people.


Lillian Schonewolf, executive director of the Healthy Village, says Saint Francis and its parent Trinity Health "see the Healthy Village model as an opportunity to change how we do health care, especially in areas where we are part of the safety net."

Schonewolf says the inclusion of the HOPE Commission's Women's Reentry program in the Healthy Village resulted from a call she received from Delaware state Sen. Darius Brown, who has been the executive director of the Wilmington HOPE Commission since 2021. The commission began in 2014. Brown explained to Schonewolf the commission's work providing social services to men reentering society and asked how the commission could partner with the Healthy Village to extend such services to women.

Schonewolf says she visited the facility where the commission provides services to men. "It was eye-opening for me," she recalls. She saw that the men were struggling and dealing with extreme pressures of all kinds as they tried to restart their lives outside of prison, and they were getting the help they needed from the commission.

She recognized that women reentering society face similar pressures and need similar resources. Subsequently the Healthy Village and the commission partnered, prepared the space and opened the Women's Reentry services in November.


Life skills
Keyanna White is the coordinator of the Women's Reentry services. Since the facility's opening last year, she has been going to probation meetings of women who are about to be released from prison. She makes them aware of the services she can offer. When women become Women's Reentry clients, White meets one-on-one with them to understand their goals, their plans for their life after release, their challenges and the most pressing concerns they will face upon release when it comes to the social determinants of health.

White offers a wide variety of services — all of them free. She can connect women with local social service providers, including those who can help the women access transportation, housing, food aid, child care and other resources. She also can provide one-on-one and group life skills coaching, such as about how to pursue and interview for a job. White and Schonewolf say they are looking into how Women's Reentry may build clients' interest in jobs at Saint Francis, including as certified nurse assistants.

White stays in frequent contact with the women who are her clients, including after they stabilize their lives.

While the Women's Reentry services are designed for women rejoining society post-incarceration, any woman can be a client.

Schonewolf says that she sees great potential for Women's Reentry to make an important difference in its clients' lives. She says she's hearing clients say that they like Women's Reentry because they don't feel judged when they go there.

White says, "We give them an outlet and support. And some of this is about just being there to listen to them. And I just want them to know that I see them as a person."


James Woodward is president and CEO of Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic. He says that Saint Francis established the Healthy Village as part of a much broader restructuring that has been happening over the last several years. For much of Saint Francis' 100-year history, it had been expanding rapidly to meet growing demand — with little competition. That has changed as more providers have entered the region. Saint Francis' catchment area includes not just northern Delaware but also parts of northeast Maryland, southern New Jersey and southeast Pennsylvania.

Woodward says in connection with the shifts happening in the market, "we have gone through a watershed change in which we've had less and less demand for inpatient care and more and more demand for outpatient care." So, hospital leadership has been restructuring services accordingly. That has left much empty space at the campus.

Woodward says hospital leaders also recognized that there is great, unmet need for social services by patients and other community members. Community health needs assessments and anecdotal evidence from emergency department patients have borne this out.

So, says Woodward, hospital leaders decided to adopt the Healthy Village model that has been used for about 25 years on a limited basis around the world to house community-based social service providers. Schonewolf notes that as Saint Francis was developing plans for this use of space, she and other leaders toured another Healthy Village and immediately saw the value of the model — people's socioeconomic needs were being addressed by nonprofits, and that was increasing their stability and decreasing their need for emergency department services at local health care facilities.

Saint Francis worked with a consultancy called Dynamis Advisors to develop, design and help finance the Healthy Village.

Mission alignment
Since it began implementing the Healthy Village concept in March 2023, Saint Francis has been seeking Wilmington-area organizations to be tenants. The organizations must be aligned with Saint Francis' mission, vision and values; and they must address one or several priorities Saint Francis has identified based on local need. Those priorities are economic stability, safe neighborhoods, education, food security, social support and health care.

Saint Francis has built up the Healthy Village space on its campus using grants, including from Trinity Health. Tenant organizations pay nominal rent that in turn becomes an investment into Saint Francis.

Woodward notes that it has taken a long time to get buy-in for the Healthy Village, including among community members, potential donors and local leaders, because the concept is so new to Delaware and unfamiliar to most people there.

Woodward notes that he is unaware of another instance in which an acute care hospital has adopted the model.

Room for growth
Schonewolf says the Healthy Village approach is a way to use underutilized space at the hospital to address the social determinants of health for community members in need. The first two tenants to move into the Healthy Village were the Merakey behavioral health provider and Delaware Hospice. The latest was the Women's Reentry program.

Schonewolf notes that there is a sense of camaraderie building among the Healthy Village's three tenants and Saint Francis. The tenants can refer their own clients to the other organizations and to Saint Francis. Being located on the Saint Francis campus, these organizations can hand-hold their clients as they seek health care services at the hospital. Woodward notes that there already are plans to partner with a senior services provider to establish a facility at Saint Francis, and there are plans to add more tenants to the Healthy Village, including perhaps service providers for youth.

Woodward adds that Trinity Health is very interested in the Healthy Village model and is considering using the concept in other markets with hospitals that are seeing decreased use of inpatient space.

Woodward says hospital leadership expects that providing on-site access to social service organizations in this way will help to reduce hospital readmissions and preventable emergency department use. But there also is a compelling mission connection, he says, in that "we are seeking out opportunities to elevate community members out of poverty."


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