When St. Vincent Charity Medical Center closed much of its operations 10 months ago, the facility’s operator–Sisters of Charity Health System –said it planned to turn some of its 500,000-square-foot medical building and 17-acre campus into a community health and wellness hub for the surrounding neighborhoods. 

Since then, the health system has fired two top executives who were leading that effort and is now reconsidering how to best utilize the space and still serve the community. 

Health system officials met recently with Signal Cleveland to outline their commitment to the health campus, though they said they couldn’t yet detail specific plans, saying that conversations with possible partner health organizations remain confidential. 

In general terms, officials said they want to provide services to youth and families and address such issues as food insecurity and job training. 

The health system said it is still working out a financial plan to keep the health campus going long term. For now, the agencies renting space in the center’s building will help provide financial stability and health services on campus, officials said. 

“As we go forward, there will be some things that the Sisters of Charity Health System in St. Vincent [will be] the operator of and [our partners] will be the tenant,” said Dr. Charles Garven, chief medical officer of Sisters of Charity Health System. “We will be the landlord in helping facilitate other folks coming here.”

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center
St. Vincent Charity Medical Center last November. Credit: Jessie Deeds

Garven said the new services at the health campus will provide more resources for residents than the hospital ever did. 

“We might fail now, but we sure as heck are going to do everything we can for folks in the neighborhood to impact their health in ways that’s different from having a hospital next door,” Garven said.  

For years, the system has been trying to build up health and social services at the center’s main campus for Cleveland residents who live in the Central neighborhood and downtown. 

The medical center still provides outpatient health services, including primary and urgent care, behavioral health and addiction medicine, and psychiatric emergency services. 

Health system officials insist they will not give up earlier visions of providing even more services. Partnering with other organizations is key to doing this and to sustaining the health center long term, said Brad Rauh, chief administrative officer of St. Vincent Charity Community Health Center. 

“We might fail now, but we sure as heck are going to do everything we can for folks in the neighborhood to impact their health in ways that’s different from having a hospital next door,” Garven said.

Dr. Charles Garven, chief medical director of Sisters of Charity Health Systems

“We don’t have to own it,” Rauh said. “The fact [is] that St. Vincent can still be a provider of certain outpatient services, or the convener, or that there is somebody that does [clinical services] better than we could more sustainably.”

Health system leaders also said in the future they will announce minor expansions to programs, including the Mission Kitchen food pantry and psychiatric and behavioral health services. 

Garven said the overall goal for the health campus is to address the social factors that contribute to the health and wellness of neighborhood residents. 

“Access to high quality medical care, which doesn’t necessarily have to be hospitals, is an element of a much bigger thing that impacts people’s health,” Garven said. 

Hushed hallways. Dark rooms. Quiet lobbies. 

Inside the former St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, which was once bustling with doctors, nurses, service workers and aides, the hallways are now quiet. 

The windows of rooms that housed overnight beds for sick patients are dark. And the emergency room, which now operates as the center’s urgent care, has only a few employees caring for a handful of clients. 

Health system officials said that the decline in patient volume over the years, the financial impact from the COVID-19 pandemic and years of million dollar losses triggered a seismic change. 

“The Sisters said we will never leave here,” said Janet Murphy, president and CEO of Sisters of Charity Health System. “We are committed to again developing this health campus to actually address the social determinants of health. This just underscores their commitment now to outpatient care.” 

St. Vincent Charity Community Health Center's cafeteria serves a variety of hot meals to patients, clients and the center's support staff.
St. Vincent Charity Community Health Center’s cafeteria serves a variety of hot meals to patients, clients and the center’s support staff. Credit: Jessie Deeds for Signal Cleveland

The newest health organization to offer services on campus is Bellefaire JCB, which provides behavioral health, substance abuse and education services for youth in crisis in Cuyahoga County. 

Beginning in January, Neighborhood Family Practice, a federally qualified health center, will provide primary care for families who are poor and uninsured in a building adjacent to the former hospital. 

In addition, the health center, along with other partners, plans to expand behavioral health crisis services by creating a space with 16 beds for people who need temporary care before returning home and to the community. The health center would use a $6.5 million federal grant pending with the Ohio Department of Mental Health Services for this project. 

Health officials said that despite the changing environment and restructuring, the 170-year commitment to a neighborhood and its residents isn’t wavering. 

“What the community doesn’t want to see is that somebody starts and then they leave,” Rauh said. “You can’t rely on it. They can’t rely on it. And then you don’t have credibility. So it’s now about making sure it can be sustainable in the long term for the folks in this neighborhood.”

Health Reporter (she/her)
Candice, a Cleveland Documenter since 2020, has been a freelance writer whose reporting and digital media work have appeared in The Daily Beast, VICE, Cleveland Magazine and elsewhere. She has written about health, equity and social justice.