A milestone change has occurred at West Baltimore's St. Agnes Hospital. For the first time in that institution's 129-year history, its president comes from outside the ranks of the Daughters of Charity.
The reason is quite simple. As a result of the incredible societal convulsions of the past few decades, the number of nuns has plummeted.
At St. Agnes, only 15 of the 2,900 employees are nuns. The hospital's board of directors is still being run by Daughters of Charity. Two vice presidents are nuns. But overall, nuns play a far smaller role in the hospital's day-to-day life than they did just a few decades ago.
This is a nationwide trend. What happened to Catholic schools when once-ample teaching staffs from religious orders diminished and were replaced by lay people is now happening at hospitals. Robert E. Pezzoli, who is taking over the 407-bed community teaching hospital with 470 attending staff physicians, no stranger to St. Agnes, having served as executive vice president and chief operating officer since 1987. But the change ends an era.
St. Agnes is poised for expansion. A $21.5 million program planto replace the emergency room and neo-natal intensive care unit as well as to add patient rooms, treatment units and other facilities. Meanwhile, St. Agnes is also developing a comprehensive medical staff in the rapidly growing Ellicott City area of Howard County.
The Daughters of Charity was founded by Maryland's StElizabeth Ann Seton in 1809, with a special mission of taking care of the poor. This mission continues today in its 54 hospitals which, with $4.5 billion in revenues, form America's largest not-for-profit health system. As lay people replace nuns in key positions, the order must see to it that the tradition for caring for the underprivileged is not lost.