June 20, 2019
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Fulfilling Its Mission

Health care reform seen by St. Mary’s as call to arms to prevent and treat disease
The lobby of the Northbrook outpatient facility.

It’s not your father’s hospital anymore.

Gone are the crisp white nursing uniforms and the 1950s-era gender balance of physicians and nursing staff. Hospitals have changed dramatically, and they will continue to do so.

For the entire existence of hospital-delivered health care, the mission has been to identify and treat existing conditions. While that approach has served the community well, hospital leaders see a new direction as they forge into the 21st century.

Regardless of whether health care officials fully embrace the tenets of the Affordable Care Act, they do acknowledge at least one vital component — there has to be an increased focus on preventive care.

“The ACA asks us to think through a future landscape where health care providers really do focus more on health and prevention rather than just fixing a patient once a disease has been identified, or focusing only on acute care standards,” St. Mary’s Health Chief Operating Officer Gwen Sandefur says.

It has been far from an easy road to travel.

“We’ve been treating illness and we’ve been doing that very, very well,” Sandefur says. “That just isn’t enough these days. Now, we need to begin teaching wellness as well. It’s been daunting because we have been very much focused on hospital care and acute care needs.

Health care reform is merely a call to arms for hospitals to live out their mission and to be more accountable, Sandefur says.

“Our mission reads in part that our Catholic health ministry is dedicated to spiritually centered, holistic care which sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities,” Sandefur says.

Today’s communities also expect hospitals to be more than just leaders in health care and a valid resource for healthy choices. Hospitals must reach out to their communities rather than simply wait for already sick patients to come to them, Sandefur says.

As part of that outreach, St. Mary’s now offers pre-diabetes classes, trauma prevention programs, and nutrition outreach in schools, as well as a mobile dental clinic for kids and mobile mammography services for women.

As one of Evansville’s largest employers, St. Mary’s also has reached out to fellow employers in the Tri-State region — nearly 50 in all — offering onsite programs and services ranging from healthy living coaching to occupational medicine to injury prevention.

“Our biggest challenge going forward is to prove that wellness does make a difference,” Sandefur says. “It’s hard telling employers that they should invest money in wellness because the payoff is extremely long-term, and you don’t know sometimes if you have made an impact.”

Taking Health Care to the Community

To meet the public’s needs, St. Mary’s is undergoing several expansion projects, one of the keys of which will be the construction of Epworth Crossing. This state-of-the-art outpatient facility will be located near Epworth Road and the Lloyd Expressway.

Ground was broken Oct. 31, 2012, on the 44,000-square-foot center — which will include a new and expanded breast center, a wellness center, primary care and specialty physician offices, MRI services, lab, digital X-ray, and ultrasound services, community space for activities such as healthy cooking classes, and a medical equipment and retail store.

St. Mary’s isn’t stopping there. The hospital recently announced the completion of a major Emergency Department and inpatient bed expansion project at its main facility at 3700 Washington Ave. In June, the health center also opened a new Northbrook outpatient facility at 3838 N. 1st Ave., directly across from the Ivy Tech Community College campus. The facility will provide the residents on Evansville’s North Side with on-site CT scan, X-ray and mobile digital mammography services, as well as family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatric physician practices.

Feeding Clinic Expansion

During this process, St. Mary’s also expanded and renovated its Center for Children Feeding Clinic, which treats children who were born prematurely or have significant medical complications. The feeding clinic is one of only a few in the nation utilizing a team approach that includes a pediatric gastroenterologist, speech and occupational therapists, dieticians, and psychologists, says Dr. Elizabeth Clawson, a clinical psychologist at the center.

“We’re a trans-disciplinary team, so we have multiple disciplines all working together that we cross train with each other’s knowledge,” Clawson says. “It’s far better to see a patient as a team than to have the patient go through multiple visits and collaborate on the backend.”

Operating over capacity in 2011, the feeding clinic treated patients from as far away as Texas, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico.

“Having a facility like this here really says a lot for Evansville,” Clawson says.

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