Healthcare in Wilmington has changed, and Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic is envisioning a new look at St. Francis Hospital in the next few years. The look of the iconic building at Seventh and Clayton streets will not change from the outside, but renovations inside will transform the facility into one that offers a wide range of services for patients and area residents.
The hospital has about 400 beds, but its patient census averages 70-75 at any one time, said Lillian Schonewolf, the regional vice president for community health and well-being for Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic, St. Francis’ parent corporation. The hospital will become the home of a “Healthy Village,” offering not only medical care but other clinical services and social services, along with a housing option. Schonewolf is also the executive director of Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic’s Healthy Villages.
Clinical care accounts for just a small percentage of what patients need, she said. The hospital provides its patients with information about securing housing or food, for example, but it doesn’t know if the patients follow up.
“It’s not that they don’t want to be compliant to what the clinical team needs them to do, they often can’t,” Schonewolf said. “We loved the idea of integrating clinical services and social services in one building. If you think about it, you have a patient that comes through the ER, and many times that patient isn’t in need of clinical help, but rather sometimes they need other social services.”
Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic gave the go-ahead to the Healthy Village concept last spring, and in the interim, the company has been in touch with local and state officials, along with representatives from many community organizations, some of whom may have a presence inside the village.
Schonewolf said in her research, there are needs in four areas: senior services, workforce development and education, housing, and behavioral health and mental health services. The company set out to identify who in the community would best be able to provide those things. There may be some changes to the clinical side as well. For example, the emergency room is currently on the same floor as the intensive care unit. Schonewolf said it may make more sense to place behavioral and mental health services with the ER instead. Patients can walk over and get the services they need.
Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic is not “going to take down all of the walls,” she said. “We’re going to utilize what we have first.”
Another aspect of the Healthy Village is housing. The hospital owns a parking garage behind the building, and a feasibility study shows it is likely that they can construct apartments on top of the garage.
One of St. Francis’ partners is Cornerstone West Community Development Corp., formed by a partnership between the hospital and West End Neighborhood House in 1999. Cornerstone focuses on housing primarily for low- to moderate-income families.
“Once we get the feasibility study, Cornerstone is going to take the initiative to go possibly four floors up and provide senior care,” Schonewolf said.
Those apartments would be connected to the hospital, and senior services would be integrated into the Healthy Village.
Another facet of the village would be education. Schonewolf said Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic would like to make the hospital a hub for education. They said they have talked to local colleges and two local high schools about programming for students interested in healthcare as a career. They will be talking to more schools in the coming months.
“The key to success for education is not grabbing children in high school. It’s grabbing them at a younger age. We can have mentorship programs, certification programs,” she said.
Cornerstone also has a program for children who are aging out of the foster-care system, who often have problems with housing and other issues. Schonewolf said it is possible that these young men and women can get housing, education, employment and, if needed, pregnancy or child care in one building.
The housing component has gotten some attention, but it was never going to be the first part of the project. Schonewolf said the feasibility studies are about done, but there is plenty to do before any work commences. Among the work remaining in literally knocking on doors in the neighborhood to learn the concerns of nearby residents.
“The only way for this to be successful is if everybody understands it and wants to be a part of it,” she said.
Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic officials said one of the concerns they have heard from the community is the lack of steady leadership at St. Francis over the past four to five years. Christopher Cullom took over duties as president of the hospital over the summer; he also oversees Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa. He said 80 percent of the care people need is outside their medical intervention, and St. Francis is positioned to provide that.
Cullom said the Healthy Village concept fits in with St. Francis’ ministry to the community. The hospital simply has more beds than it uses, and the space can be used to better serve the needs of the community.
“One of the things that we get challenged with here is as a safety net hospital, a hospital that cares for a disproportionate share of the disadvantaged of the most vulnerable population, is people come to us with a lot of other challenges outside their medical needs,” he said.
St. Francis has a responsibility to address all of the things that keep people healthy, he continued.
“Partnerships are key,” he said. “How do you partner with people who have a similar mission?”
The Healthy Village concept was developed by Dynamis Advisors, Schonewolf said. St. Francis will be the first with everything integrated into a working hospital. There is one in Milford, but it’s in a different location.
One of the things that struck Schonewolf when she visited the Milford location was how all of the partners worked together. She echoed Cullom on the need for collaboration.
“We need to integrate services, and not just with the community workers. We’ve learned that we’ve had to partner with other healthcare organizations to make sure we were getting the patients and the community what they need. Having everybody here, we’ll be able to provide that whole person care,” she said.
Start-up costs for the Healthy Village are approximately $13 million. Much of that will come from philanthropy and grants, Schonewolf said. Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic will invest $5 million, and the company has received a $2.5 million grant from the state.
Officials are hoping to see some work begin inside in the next few months, and they are anticipating the project to take three years to complete, although Cullom said needs are reassessed every few years. He added that hospital services will not change.
“This is an enhancement of what we currently offer here,” he said. “It’s providing a more well-rounded approach to health care delivery. We want to continue to grow and figure out how we can serve even more people here in Wilmington.”