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St. Francis extending healthcare to planned riverfront facility for elderly

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Staff reporter

WILMINGTON – In the gospel of Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells the story of the sheep and the goats. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will separate his people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. On one side will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked and cared for the sick. On the other will be those who did not.

U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper said the Senate chaplain often reminds the politicians in his Bible study group of this Gospel as they go about their work in Washington, D.C. Carper said the opening of what is hoped to be an innovative St. Francis Healthcare senior care facility at the Shipyard Center on the Wilmington riverfront “is the embodiment of Matthew 25.”

He was among the dignitaries who gathered Monday for the blessing and ceremonial groundbreaking for St. Francis LIFE – Living Independently for Elders, a 28,000-square-foot space that will offer care for seniors who want to age with dignity in their homes and communities, said Julie Hester, chief executive officer of St. Francis Hospital.

Julie Hester (left), CEO of St. Francis Hospital; U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, Bishop Malooly, and Rita Landgraf, Delaware Secretary for Health and Human Services, wield sledgehammers March 26 to announce the start of construction at Wilmington's Riverfront on St. Francis LIFE - Living Independently for Elders. The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhogography.com

“These folks that we provide services for will not fade into the background,” she told the gathered crowd.

The center will be Delaware’s first under the federally funded PACE, which stands for Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. St. Francis approached state officials about administering the program locally. Catholic Health East, of which St. Francis is a part, is the largest provider of LIFE services on the East Coast, according to Hester.

The program, expected to serve about 240 people, will create approximately 40-50 jobs, including physicians, nurses, various therapists and social workers. Seniors will be able to receive therapy, enjoy a meal or receive other care at St. Francis LIFE. The center also will help the Shipyard Center – which includes a fitness center, restaurants and a few other businesses – and St. Francis by extending its reach in the community, Hester said. The services will also include transportation.

“We understand we have to increase the hospital’s footprint in and out of the city, so hopefully this is the first thing in a string of things that we will be doing,” Hester told The Dialog.

The administrator of the facility is Amy Milligan, a graduate of Padua Academy who is a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in north Wilmington. Milligan formerly worked in occupational health for MBNA and Bank of America. She said St. Francis LIFE will help the elderly maintain their quality of life as their medical needs increase.

“What’s exciting about this is having their health care right here for them, but allow them the opportunity to have them stay in their home as long as it’s safe,” she said.

Rita Landgraf, Delaware’s secretary for Health and Human Services, said seniors would rather age with dignity and support at home, and the need for services like LIFE will only continue to grow.

Currently, one in five residents in Delaware is age 65 or over, and that percentage is rising. By 2030, she said, Delaware is projected to rank ninth in the country in terms of the percentage of people 65 and older.

Part of the federal Affordable Care Act, passed two years ago by Congress, included finding out why residents of other countries get better health care than Americans while spending less than the United States does, Sen. Thomas Carper said. Saint Francis LIFE will provide better care while reducing costs.

“(Other countries) just don’t treat people when they get sick,” he said. “They try to keep people healthy.”

Preventative care keeps people from costly hospital stays and trips to the emergency room, the senator said.

The event on the riverfront included a prayer service led by Bishop Malooly,, who also blessed the front doors with holy water.

“The work we’re beginning today should enliven our faith. May God’s healing presence be evident to all who enter here,” he said.

Hester said the location was appealing because of the amount of room, its central location and visibility, as well as easy access to area roads. Although the program is federally funded, the $4 million capital cost of renovating the facility is being borne by Catholic Healthcare East.

Work on the facility should be done by the end of the summer, according to Hester. St. Francis would like to enroll clients as soon as possible, but it cannot advertise until certain government regulations are met. The most likely opening date for Saint Francis LIFE, she said, is next January.