BY: ELLIOT JOSEPH
Mr. Joseph is president and CEO, St. John Health, Warren, MI.
A Detroit Health Care System Makes Senior Housing the Core of a Renewed
Faced with the question of what to do with an aging, underused hospital
in northeast Detroit, St. John Health, Warren, MI, turned to the community
for help in developing a plan for transforming the campus in a way that
would better meet local needs. Through meetings and interviews with local
residents, St. John Health learned that community members needed job training,
career development, employment, health care, housing, and a safe environment.
To meet these needs, St. John Health developed a plan to convert the
facility, St. John NorthEast Community Hospital, into a senior housing
community called "Conner Creek: A Partnership for Healthy Lives."
Inpatient care has been phased out. Now, St. John Health is working with
local partners to build affordable, safe, and attractive apartments for
Plans call for Conner Creek to offer a wide variety of supportive services
to complement the housing and to meet needs identified by the community.
A nursing school, chronic care services, job training, and recreational
activity areas are among the offerings under consideration. Townhouses
may be added in the future. St. John Health's leaders say that Conner
Creek may prove to be a model for urban health care sites in need of revitalization.
On a chilly Michigan morning in late October 2004, a group of community leaders
dug shovels into a box of dirt in a vacant parking lot on Detroit's northeast
side. As flash bulbs popped and more than 100 guests gathered for the "groundbreaking"
politely clapped, participants could feel progress, hope, and renewal in the
That vacant parking lot will soon boast beautiful, safe, and affordable senior
housing residences. But those residences are only part of the plan. One day,
the area will be the site of an entire "village."
A New Vision
In 1996, St. John Health, an eight-hospital system, the largest provider of
inpatient care in southeast Michigan, purchased Holy Cross Hospital in northeast
Detroit. St. John Health then invested more than $25 million in the Holy Cross
campus and renamed it St. John NorthEast Community Hospital. As is the case
of many other urban hospitals across the country, bringing the campus, which
was constructed more than 50 years ago, into the 21st century, presented significant
challenges. The system also needed to determine how to best use this campus
in balance with its other two inpatient facilities in the city and with its
community health, parish nursing, and school-based clinic programs. After careful
consideration, St. John Health's leaders decided to phase out inpatient services
there, primarily because of the cost that would be required to operate a facility
with low occupancy rates and to modernize it sufficiently to meet today's inpatient
But the system's leaders chose not to close the campus. They decided, because
of its importance to the surrounding community, to revitalize NorthEast, bringing
new life, new services, and a new sense of possibility to the campus. St. John
Health continued offering emergency and ambulatory services to area residents.
Meanwhile, its leaders began developing a new vision for the campus.
Conner Creek Village
With area residents in mind, St. John Health's leaders pondered what to do with
the hospital campus. After conducting a series of meetings and interviews with
residents, the system's leaders identified the local population's needs: job
training, career development, employment, health care, housing, and a safe community
To meet these needs, St. John Health's leaders developed a plan to turn the
old hospital site into a community-focused campus. Announced in April 2004,
the campus will be called (for a tributary that flows into the Detroit River)
"Conner Creek Village: A Partnership for Healthy Lives." The center
will offer a variety of services and programs, including a school of nursing
and allied health professions, emergency and primary health care, management
for chronic conditions, job training, health education, a day care center, and
senior independent living residences. Conner Creek Village's mission is to provide
accessible, high-quality health care, education, and lifecycle services that
create and support a healthy community.
The Housing Component
Conner Creek Village is a collaborative effort by St. John Health and other
organizations. St. John Health, which first envisioned the project, has invested
in it a combination of capital, intensive staff time, and operation costs. Additional
investments will come from each of the partner organizations.
Housing will be a key component of the project. In June 2004, St. John Health
announced that Detroit Community Initiative (DCI) had signed on as an official
partner. DCI, a not-for-profit organization committed to providing safe, healthy,
and prosperous neighborhoods for Detroit families, will develop independent-living
residences for senior citizens. The housing component, which will occupy 4.8
acres of unoccupied land on the campus, will be done in phases. Work on the
first phase, a $6.3 million development funded through a combination of federal
tax credits and mortgage loans, began in November 2004. DCI is collaborating
in the project with NRP Holdings LLC, a development firm. DCI has already relocated
its administrative offices to the new Conner Creek Village campus.
The first phase of the housing component will be a three-story structure containing
48 affordable apartments for senior citizens. Nineteen will be one-bedroom units
of approximately 655 square feet of living space; the other 29 will be two-bedroom
units and will have 855 square feet of space. Twelve of these units will be
reserved for seniors with physical impairments or long-term health concerns.
A local firm, Matrix Human Services, will provide supportive services for the
special-needs residents. The phase one development will include laundry facilities
on each floor and community rooms, which can be used for computers, arts and
crafts activities, and other social and recreational services.
Michael Fisher, DCI's president and CEO, is passionate about the project. "There
is a serious lack of affordable, safe, and attractive housing options for seniors
in northeast Detroit," he says. "With the development of these new
senior residences at Conner Creek Village, lifelong Detroit residents won't
be forced to leave the neighborhood they call home in order to find an appropriate
and affordable housing option."
Completion of the first phase is scheduled for October. If interest from the
community in this development is as high as St. John Health's and DCI's leaders
anticipate, a second, 48-unit senior independent living residence will be constructed
on the site.
A Model for Others?
Enrollment for residence in the new development is open to all seniors aged
55 and older, although each applicant will have to undergo a standard screening
process for qualification. For those seniors who qualify, rental payments will
be determined according to a sliding scale based on household income, as determined
by federal guidelines under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Rates
for the one-bedroom units will range from approximately $310 to $620 per month;
the two-bedroom units will range from $370 to $740 monthly. Open enrollment
for interested seniors was expected to begin in March.
DCI has made tentative plans for a third phase of development that could include
market-priced townhomes for residents of any age.
Meanwhile, a number of other organizations—including the administrative offices
of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence and St. John Eastwood
Clinic, a behavioral and substance abuse facility—have moved to the Conner Creek
Village campus. SCCI Hospital Detroit, a 53-bed long-term acute care hospital,
will come soon. Negotiations with still other prospective tenants-a nursing
school, food service training and landscaping schools, adult day care, and child
day care services-are in progress.
Meanwhile, St. John Health's leaders will remain focused on their core mission:
providing spiritually centered, holistic care that sustains and improves the
health of individuals in the communities it serves. They hope that Conner Creek
Village will serve as a national model for the revitalization of urban-centered
health services, showcasing what a health care system and its community can
accomplish by working together. To borrow from a now-familiar proverb: It will
take a village to create Conner Creek Village.
Copyright © 2005 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.