St. Mary’s celebrates 110 years

AMSTERDAM – The technological demands and changing landscape of the nation’s healthcare industry present new challenges for hospitals in the 21st century.

At St. Mary’s Hospital, the key to evolving successfully is keeping true to what has kept it valuable to the community over the last 110 years.

“The challenge that lies ahead is a challenge for the whole nation – it’s trying our very best to deliver care that is really value-driven and keeping people as healthy as we can” said St. Mary’s President and Chief Executive Officer Vic Giulianelli.

Vice President for Mission Integration Sister Danielle Bonetti – one of five Sisters of St. Joseph serving at St. Mary’s healthcare – added that keeping patients healthy and out of the hospital is the focus now.

“Keeping them out of the hospital is evolving as the major role for healthcare providers. The other thing we’re trying to change is the image and name of ‘hospital,'” Bonetti said, adding that the hospital now has many programs aimed at preventative measures to help people stay healthy so they don’t need treatment.

With an emphasis on holistic care – focusing not only on the body but the mind and especially the spirit at St. Mary’s -the hospital carries on the mission started when it opened April 19, 1903.

Monsignor William A. Brown bought the Abram Marcellus mansion on Upper Guy Park Avenue in 1902 with the dream of establishing a Catholic hospital in the city.

He contracted the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, known for establishing hospitals in the midwest.

The sisters traveled from Troy in Rensselaer County and Kansas City to help start the operation.

“They came here in November 1902 – just five sisters – and they took up residence in this mansion and physically had to transform it into a hospital. They worked tirelessly. Father Brown wanted them to come because he cared about his people, his flock. A lot of immigrants were coming at about that time, and if you read the original documents, he wanted what we call today holistic care – body, mind and spirit,” Bonetti said. “You look to the future, the whole reshaping of health care right now, and it looks uncertain. But those five sisters who came here, they had no idea what the future would hold. All they knew is there are people who needed care, and they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.”

This week the hospital celebrated its 110th anniversary. When the hospital opened in 1903, it had 20 beds and 11 employees. Over 110 years it has expanded to support about 1,600 jobs and offer more than 140 beds between acute care and other units, as well as a 160-bed nursing home, seven community-based health centers and six specialty care centers.

Acute care beds are for patients who are being treated for illnesses or need surgery, for example. This landscape alone has changed dramatically with minimally invasive surgical technology.

“So much of our patient services, even surgeries, are outpatient. Not that many years ago – 15 years or so – if you had to have your gallbladder removed, it was a major surgery. You’d be in the hospital for days and come in for pretesting. Now it’s an outpatient procedure,” Bonetti said. “It’s minimally invasive surgery, so you don’t have to cut the muscle and people can recover much quicker.”

The majority of revenues at the hospital now come from outpatient services, Giulianelli added, a dramatic change from when he first took the helm in 1980.

“When I first joined the hospital, and back in the 1990s, easily over 90 percent of our income was inpatient driven,” Giulianelli said. “Now it’s just the reverse.”

And the hospital continues to grow with new investments, like the $20 million project at Memorial Campus for the new Outpatient Health Center Pavilion, which will create about 20 new jobs, contain a new Cancer Medicine Center, a breast health center, a medical imaging center, laboratory services and an Urgent Care facility.

State economic development funds contributed $307,000 to the project.

“This campus is going to change quite a bit,” said Giulianelli. “The new Outpatient Pavillion is going to be very accessible, very convenient and very high- tech, but it will still have the hallmark of care and compassion that St. Mary’s always delivers.

Giulianelli said if the project kicks off by early 2014, the new pavillion should be open by mid-to-late 2015. Hospital officials also are looking at building a senior housing complex.

“On the west side of the campus, behind the nursing home, we’re going to determine later this year whether we’re going to move forward with a senior housing complex,” Giulianelli said.

The hospital’s historical timeline is filled with accomplishments. A decade after opening it added its first new wing that increased capacity to 44 beds at a cost of $35,000 construction. In 1921, the hospital opened a nursing school. In 1927, another new wing opened offering 80 beds, dining facilities, and business offices.

In 1943, an expansion added an emergency room, intensive care unit and new convent.

In 1979, the hospital broke ground on its current facility, which became a Community Mental Health Center when it incorporated five main programs needed for the designation.

The modern four-story hospital opened its doors in 1980, and in 1990, the hospital opened an inpatient alcohol rehabilitation services center and expanded primary care services.

In 1993, St. Mary’s opened more outpatient surgical suites, a reception area, an auxiliary-sponsored gift shop and the tower of glass staircase.

In 2002, St. Mary’s became a sponsor of Ascension Health, a non-profit health care system, which has more than 80 hospitals in its network, supports over 130,000 jobs and has total revenue and expenses of about $23 billion.

St. Mary’s was one of the first hospitals in the Capital Region to get the iron lung in the 1940s used during the polio epidemic, as well as one of the first to have an ultrasound and x-ray machine, Bonetti said.

But the staff’s every-day work is the hospital’s great accomplishment, Giulianelli and Bonetti said.

“It’s what happens every day as we deliver care. What I tell our people is don’t ever take for granted the gift you’ve been given to impact lives, touch lives and shape lives every single day. What greater reward is there?” Giulianelli said.

The last few years have proved historical for the hospital. In March 2009 St. Mary’s and Amsterdam Memorial Healthcare signed an asset acquisition agreement unifying the two under the St. Mary’s Hospital name.

“It was important because it marked a major shift with the two organizations coming together to help ensure critically needed health services would remain in this community, as would all the jobs, and we accomplished both, so that was pretty impactful,” Giulianelli said.

Bonetti said the August 2011 flooding of the Mohawk River after Hurricane Irene caused the hospital to evacuate for the first time ever.

She recalled how the staff worked together to get everyone out, many to the Memorial Campus, others to Saratoga and Albany by ambulance.

“It shows how dedicated people were when we worked through the night to vacate the hospital,” Bonetti said.

Sister Mary Johanna Ryan, of the Emergency Department, echoed her statements, remembering how she had to stay in the maternity area because her residence flooded.

“The adaptability is one of the things I admire about the administration and our employees – it’s the ability to adapt to the needs of the time. The Sisters of St. Joseph that’s our philosophy and our mission to find what the needs are and respond to them,” said Ryan, whose history with the hospital goes back to the 1960s.