Building bridges to health Hospital: Bon Secours is expanding its mission with plans to revitalize the poor community by renovating homes, constructing a support center and collaborating with social service agencies.

February 11, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Born two blocks from Bon Secours Hospital in 1922, Sister Urban Auer, a member of the Sisters of Bon Secours, easily ticks off what used to be in the old neighborhood: factories, corner stores, churches and, oh yes, lots of babies.

"We had one of the biggest obstetrics departments in the city," she said. "The nursery was overflowing all the time during the war and right after. I still meet a lot of people who say, 'I was born at Bon Secours.' "

But the hospital changed in response to the evolving neighborhood, which saw businesses close and many middle-class residents flee to the suburbs, leaving the poor behind. Today, Bon Secours has no maternity ward, but does have a drug-treatment program, visiting health aides for homebound elderly and community clinics.

This year, Bon Secours will stretch its mission again by joining with the state and community groups to revitalize 30 apartments in 15 boarded-up buildings along two blocks of West Baltimore Street, near the hospital. It also will demolish a long-vacant Roman Catholic school and convent, and in its place build the Community Support Center -- a one-stop social service center.

The goal: To help heal an area left reeling by a bevy of social problems caused or exacerbated by poverty.

"We are redefining our mission. It's not only to take care of the sick but to partner with others to build a healthy community," said Sister Nancy Glynn, CBS, sister president of the board of directors of Bon Secours Baltimore Health System.

This sort of outreach is part of a nationwide trend to build bridges between hospitals and scores of community agencies that can indirectly improve health.

"We would certainly give Bon Secours very strong marks in terms of looking very critically at what the hospital needs to provide to a very needy patient population," said Nancy Fiedler, spokeswoman for the Maryland Hospital Association.

The hospital has received $3.2 million, mostly in public funds, to renovate the 15 buildings in the 1800 and 1900 blocks of W. Baltimore St.

About $1.6 million in private funds will help pay for construction of the $1.7 million support center, which will offer classes in literacy and parent skills and a drop-in center for young parents.

The nonprofit Friends of the Family, which oversees and funds 24 such centers statewide with state money, is providing $65,000 in start-up funds and $150,000 a year indefinitely for operation of the center.

During the past three years, as a $30 million renovation of the hospital was completed, Bon Secours officials began looking at what major initiatives could be launched to help improve the neighborhood.

Key players from the hospital staff were Glynn and George Kleb, Bon Secours' director of community development, who turned to developer James W. Rouse for advice three years ago: "Rouse said, 'If all you're going to do is bricks and mortar, that's all you'll have, bricks and mortar, no community,' " Kleb said.

Searching for direction, hospital officials turned to community leaders, churches, drug-treatment center workers, teachers, police and physicians.

From studying emergency room statistics, they knew what uninsured people need to stay out of the hospital: attention to diet and exercise, ways to cope with stress other than drugs and alcohol, and increased literacy so they can take medication as directed.

They started holding luncheons and dinners in the hospital's dining room for community leaders and eventually formed a steering committee of about 40 members who produced the idea for the Community Support Center.

The main conclusion was that the area's large number of young families, mostly headed by women, needed education, job training and somewhere to turn in times of crises.

The idea was not to duplicate services already offered, but rather to tap available resources.

So collaborative deals -- nine so far -- were made, among them: Catholic Charities has opened a Head Start center at Hollins Street and Fulton Avenue, two blocks from the support center; the private social service agency Echo House will provide crisis intervention counselors; emergency food will be offered by St. Martin's Church; and literacy courses will be offered by St. Martin's General Education Development program and Communities Organized to Improve Life's Learning Bank.

While Bon Secours recently merged with Liberty Medical Center in Northwest Baltimore, the outreach center's boundaries generally encompass Southwest Baltimore: Franklintown Road on the west, Carey Street on the east, U.S. 40 on the north and Wilkens Avenue on the south. People from outside the area are welcome, though.

Community reaction to the hospital's plans has been overwhelmingly positive: "I'm optimistic because this center was created by people who live here," said Joyce Smith, executive director of the Franklin Square Community Association and a steering committee member.

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