Article

Sisters of Charity sharpens focus on wellness in challenged neighborhood

November 15, 2022

By LISA EISENHAUER

Even though the latest transformation within the Sisters of Charity Health System was driven by finances and evolving trends in health care delivery, executives involved said the shift aligns with how the system and its founding congregation have innovated to meet the changing needs of the Cleveland neighborhoods they have long served.

Sisters of Charity announced in mid-September that it would be transitioning its only remaining acute care hospital, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland, to an ambulatory care facility. The ambulatory care services will be named St. Vincent Charity Community Health Center and continue to be housed within the medical center building.

A bike and scooter ride through the neighborhoods surrounding St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland was one of the ways the MASS Design Group reached out to the community to solicit views on what a health campus around the hospital should include. MASS Design was a consultant on the campus, which is being shaped to address the health and social needs of the surrounding community.

Courtesy of MASS Design Group

Last year the system announced it would develop the St. Vincent Charity Health Campus. The repurposing of the medical center building is part of that project. The new campus will promote holistic health and wellness through health care and services that address the social determinants of health. The system plans to fill open space in the hospital building with some of those services.

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Murphy

The system said the hospital's transition to ambulatory care was expected to be complete by Nov. 15. The changes include the loss of about 641 full-time positions as the hospital will no longer staff 162 inpatient beds or a medical emergency department.

Janice Murphy, president and chief executive of Cleveland-based Sisters of Charity Health System, said the shift was spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and the decline in demand for inpatient medical services it set off. She noted that in the first month of the health emergency in spring 2020, St. Vincent Charity's finances were $3 million in the red. For the year, the medical center's patient volume dropped by about 30% from 2019 and volume did not recover in 2021.

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This image shows a vision for the St. Vincent Charity Health Campus that is being developed around what is now the St. Vincent Charity Community Health Center in Cleveland. Plans for the campus include a variety of services that address the health, social and economic needs of the community that surrounds the health center.

Courtesy of MASS Design Group

"We were hoping that after the vaccines came onboard, we would see volumes return to the pre-pandemic levels and that never did occur," Murphy said.

Painful move, but still hope
The hospital closure is painful, she said, especially because of its impact on the workforce. Some of those workers, she noted, have been with the hospital for 50 years.

Sisters of Charity Health System is collaborating with other area health systems to place workers. Murphy said one of those systems, University Hospitals, is even honoring the workers' seniority and trying to provide parity in salary and benefits. University Hospitals also absorbed St. Vincent Charity Medical Center's internal medicine residency program along with its 54 residents.

Once the exit from inpatient care is complete, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center will employ about 100 full-time workers. It will offer:

  • Primary care.
  • Urgent care.
  • Outpatient mental health services.
  • Psychiatric emergency services.
  • Addiction medicine services through Rosary Hall, an outpatient treatment center.
  • Occupational health.

The hospital is in the Central neighborhood, where a nonprofit, The Center for Community Solutions, estimates unemployment is close to 50% and that almost 70% of residents have incomes below the federal poverty line.

Murphy said the services St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is keeping on the campus reflect its long-standing commitment to mental and behavioral health care as well as the needs of the community. She said most of the patients coming to the medical center were in need of urgent care rather than acute or emergency care.

Other nearby hospitals can meet the acute care needs of the community around St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, Murphy said.

She added that Sisters of Charity Health System executives were mindful in deciding what services to keep at the repurposed St. Vincent Charity Medical Center campus so that the cost of providing those services does not undercut the financial stability of the subsidiaries the system operates in Ohio and in South Carolina.

Those programs include Joseph & Mary's Home, the only provider of services to those who are homeless in Northeast Ohio that is exclusively focused on medical respite care; Healthy Learners, a program that provides vision, dental and other health-related care to children from low-income families in South Carolina; and the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, an organization supporting initiatives to reengage fathers in the lives of their children.

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Sr. Karam

Mission aligned
Sr. Judith Ann Karam chairs the public juridic person of the Sisters of Charity Health System and is congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. She is a past president and chief executive of Sisters of Charity Health System and a past chair of the CHA Board of Trustees.

Sr. Karam noted that across a history in the United States that stretches back to the mid-1800s, the sisters adapted the services offered by their health ministry in line with the times and with the needs of those served. She pointed out that the congregation's health ministry always has focused on the physical, psychological, spiritual and social needs of patients. She added that the care often has addressed unmet needs in communities.

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This image shows a vision for the St. Vincent Charity Health Campus that is being developed around what is now the St. Vincent Charity Community Health Center in Cleveland. Plans for the campus include a variety of services that address the health, social and economic needs of the community that surrounds the health center.

Courtesy of MASS Design Group

An example Sr. Karam cited is an inpatient program for the treatment of patients with alcohol use disorder that was pioneered in the 1930s and 1940s by Sr. Mary Ignatia Gavin and others at a Sisters of Charity hospital in Akron and later moved to Rosary Hall, which is housed within St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. Sr. Ignatia, as she was known, is sometimes called the Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous because of her support for that program in its early days.

"I think when you look at our history and our charism — which is in all things charity, in all things love — you see we can't help but respond to people and the needs that people have, no matter how hard it is," said Sr. Karam.

Health campus plans
In Cleveland, she said, Sisters of Charity hopes to meet more needs of the vulnerable community it serves than ever through its development of the St. Vincent Charity Health Campus.

Susanna H. Krey is president and chief executive of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland and the St. Vincent Charity Health Campus. The foundation, the health system, the medical center and the congregation are partners in the project.

Krey said planners spent months reaching out to people who live and work in or near the neighborhoods around the St. Vincent campus to learn what social, economic and wellness services community members want. Suggestions included youth and family programs, food and nutrition services, workforce development, and recreation and green space. Krey said plans are moving forward quickly. Pilot programs are being launched or developed.

Krey and other planners of the health campus are inviting partners with missions aligned to that of Sisters of Charity Health System to bring their services to the campus. So far, she said, inquiries have been made by agencies that provide workforce training, housing, childcare and other social services.

"We're looking to how these all come together to lift this vision of serving the whole person and being a catalyst for revitalization for this neighborhood that has experienced disinvestment and been overlooked so many years," Krey said.

Sr. Karam said the planners of the health campus have a lot of work ahead to bring the right partners together and to make the campus thrive. She said the prospect of a challenge has never been a deterrent for her congregation and the organizations it has founded.

"I think God's love gives us strength to take risks on behalf of serving all of God's people," she said.

Pilot programs get underway at health campus

Krey

Susanna H. Krey, president and chief executive of the St. Vincent Charity Health Campus, said three pilot programs have either launched or are in the planning phase of the St. Vincent Charity Health Campus in Cleveland. They are:

  • A food program being run by an entrepreneur who is using St. Vincent Charity Medical Center's kitchen to prepare 400 meals per week that are tailored to specific medical needs for Meals on Wheels recipients. The operator is using her program as a workforce training initiative for people in the community.
  • Behavioral health crisis and recovery services to address the symptoms of trauma by creating a new coordinated response to crisis in the community and enhance access to services that support long-term recovery.
  • A family resource center that would provide supportive care for parents and children.

Krey said another idea for the campus that has gained early support is development of a Catholic high school that provides a religious education as well as training for health care jobs, such as respiratory or radiology technicians. She said the suggestion for this program came from the bishop of Cleveland. The neighborhood around the health campus has no Catholic schools.

The high school holds the prospect of creating a more diverse health care workforce for Cleveland and for giving students a means to train for well-paying jobs with opportunities for advancement, Krey said. "The community has embraced this," she added.

— LISA EISENHAUER

 

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