Strengthening the Heart of Allentown

Strengthening the Heart of Allentown

Sacred Heart Hospital’s roots date back to 1912, when the Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart began caring for the neighborhood’s sick and injured during a diphtheria outbreak. The hospital was formally organized in 1915.

During the following century, the hospital’s fortunes waxed and waned. Eventually, economic changes, the emergence of major health care systems, and other factors took their toll.

“Sacred Heart struggled for at least a decade,” said Frank J. Ford, president of the Sacred Heart campus, “because of its inner-city location, independent status, and its dedication to serving the underprivileged.”

One year ago, St. Luke’s University Health Network acquired Sacred Heart, and began rejuvenating the institution. “Since the merger, St. Luke’s has committed to investing $31 million in improvements to Sacred Heart,” Ford said. “All the great care that we provide through our network is now available to center-city residents.”

The physical plant is undergoing a makeover including a renovated lobby, new flooring, spruced-up bathrooms, improved HVAC performance, and a multi-million-dollar upgrade of the parking facility, said Rev. John M. Gibbons, pastor of the namesake church. “Unfortunately, all of these are improvements that Sacred Heart could not have afforded itself.”

The merger also means that Sacred Heart patients now have access to St. Luke’s broad range of specialists. “A unified medical staff means all of our patients receive a consistent level and quality of care,” Ford said.

At the same time, some of Sacred Heart’s existing facilities­—such as its vascular access program—will complement the St. Luke’s network. “We previously competed with ORs in other hospitals within our network for this dialysis-related procedure,” Ford said. “Now those patients can come directly to Sacred Heart.”

A key part of the rejuvenation program is the creation of a neighborhood primary-care hub based in the Sigal Center for Family Medicine, which will operate under the “Star Wellness” brand. “We are investing $4 million to expand and modernize it,” he added, “and we expect to double the number of patients we see there.”

“All of the original services at Sigal will continue,” Ford said, “but we will also consolidate some of our outlying clinics at that location.” He cited the family-medicine and pediatrics clinics along Lehigh St. and the Women’s Health Center near 19th and Linden in Allentown as examples.

Rev. Gibbons dismissed concerns that Sacred Heart’s traditional Catholic policies would disappear as a result of the takeover. “An essential aspect of our agreement was that Sacred Heart would continue to uphold its Catholic values and St. Luke’s has stood by that.”

“Along with their commitment to preserving Sacred Heart’s original identity and Catholic values, St. Luke’s is clearly committed to strengthening our community,” Gibbons adds. “They’re working hard to bridge inner-city social challenges and improving the health of our community. They’re helping to transform our inner city,” he continues.

Two behavioral health inpatient units have moved from Bethlehem to center-city Allentown, for a total of five units; its 109 beds far exceed the original 67. “Those two units are completely new,” Ford said, “and we will bring the original three up to our overall standards.”

A behavioral health residency program is developing at Sacred Heart, too. “We expect to train five residents each year and help place them in the local community,” Ford said.

Maintaining community health requires more than drugs and surgery. “Social determinants, such as housing, education, employment, and other factors, can impact our health,” Ford said. “We are partnering with community organizations to start moving on these things.

One good example is the PA CareerLink Lehigh Valley satellite office that is scheduled to open in July at 325 Chew St.” Ford explained that residents will be able to access CareerLink’s many services, while St. Luke’s will offer support such as training programs for health care jobs.

Rev. Gibbons adds that the merger has already helped improve the local employment picture. “There are hundreds of employees in the hospital, and many of them came right from this neighborhood,” he said.

“Our basic mission is to improve the health of the community in every way we can,” Ford said. “But we also want to be a catalyst for positive changes in the city. As the hospital’s facilities and capabilities improve, everyone benefits.”


“HEART OF THE CITY” CAPITAL CAMPAIGN

St. Luke’s Sacred Heart campus recently kicked off a three-year “Heart of the City” capital campaign. “Our goal is to raise a minimum of $3 million,” said Kelly Chando, director of development. “We are well on our way, but there is still much to be done. We want to create a hub of services in and around the hospital, so our patients have easy access to health and social platforms they need and deserve.”

Chando added that the surrounding neighborhoods have been underserved for some time, but the recent merger of the two hospitals has begun to change that. “The funds raised will help us continue to upgrade equipment, recruit top talent, and most importantly, provide quality and affordable care to everyone that walks through our doors.” The money will also help support ongoing training and educational programs for local children and families, internal staff and community partners.

“Serving the community is at the heart of what we do,” she said. “We’re proud to provide these valuable resources for our inner-city Allentown residents.”

Learn more about supporting the “Heart of the City” campaign (including naming opportunities) by visiting www.sluhn.org/heartofthecity.

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