The venerable St. Joseph Medical Center marks its 125th birthday this June. We could say “anniversary,” but the word “birthday” seems more appropriate for the downtown hospital known as Houston’s birthplace. According to the hospital, there was a time when approximately one in three Houstonians was born at St. Joseph Women’s Medical Center. The hospital has documented families with three and four generations born there.
Maternity facilities have been a cornerstone of the comprehensive medical complex since 1938, although babies were born at St. Joseph’s Infirmary in 1887, the institution’s first year. As early as 1943, St. Joseph established Houston’s first premature nursery, and was the first hospital in the city to use an incubator. The Bloxom Air Lock Incubator was developed by St. Joseph staff member Dr. Allen Bloxom. His invention is credited with saving thousands of premature babies.
For Houstonians whose knowledge of St. Joseph may be just that St. Joseph Parkway is the off ramp to downtown destinations, fasten your seatbelts.
The hospital’s improbable tale continues with remarkable triumphs in the face of adversity.
The hospital was started by a small, but determined group of hearty souls who overcame daunting hurdles and hardships with faith and determination and along the way set new standards for medical care long before the Texas Medical Center geared up in the 1940s.
Sisters paved the way
The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Ward extended their mission of kindness to Houston 125 years ago. It was just 50 years after Houston was founded and a mere 11 years after the Sisters of Charity had been established in Galveston. The St. Joseph Medical Center archives offer the following early account of the hospital we know today.
“March 1887: Mother St. Louis Monteillier, Sister M. Teresa O’Gara and Mother M. Augustine stepped off the train at Houston’s Grand Central Station and were greeted by Father Tom Hennessy, who showed them via Houston’s muddy streets to an abandoned, pre-Civil War frame structure and two small cottages at Franklin Avenue and Caroline Street. The group stood in silence – perhaps in shock at the buildings’ disrepair – until Mother Augustine asked, ‘Would Father Tom say a prayer to bless the new mission?’ Then they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.”
Three months later, in June 1887, George Bingham, a railroad employee with a knee injury, was St. Joseph’s Infirmary’s first patient. That same month the infirmary registered its first birth.
Refused to their shut doors
Changing times brought new affiliations and name changes. In 1952, St. Joseph’s Infirmary became St. Joseph’s Hospital. In 1964, the apostrophe and s were dropped from St. Joseph. In 1999, the name was changed to CHRISTUS St. Joseph Hospital. In 2006, when CHRISTUS put the hospital up for sale, the hospital’s physicians joined together to form the SJH Physician Purchasing Group LLC, and with Hospital Partners of America (HPA), purchased the hospital, which was renamed St. Joseph Medical Center. Today, the name remains the same under the new partnership with IASIS Healthcare, which began in May 2011. St. Joseph is the largest physician-owned hospital in the nation, with the approximate 100 doctors maintaining a 22-percent ownership in St. Joseph Medical Center.
IASIS, located in Franklin, Tennessee, owns and operates medium-sized acute care hospitals in high-growth urban and suburban markets. The company operates its hospitals with a strong community focus by offering and developing health care services targeted to the needs of the markets it serves, promoting strong relationships with physicians and working with local managed care plans.
“IASIS is a great partner for St. Joseph – not only is the company an industry thought-leader, it holds the experience that will help the hospital meet its hopes and dreams,” says Pat Mathews, CEO of St. Joseph Medical Center.
Mathews joined St. Joseph management in 2006, as HPA transitioned into the facility and served as the hospital’s CFO and as one of 10 board members who guided the hospital through its immensely challenging financial times over the next five years. Mathews was named CEO in 2009.
The fiscal woes were well known, but the true heart of the institution’s medical staff didn’t make as many headlines. Rather than walk away from the earnest, but troubled hospital, the physicians worked together to continue its mission and formed the SJH Physician Purchasing Group LLC so that the doctors could participate in the sale process and share a collective voice in regard to the hospital’s future.
“The fact that we are 22 percent physician-owned shows how much the doctors believe in this hospital,” says Mathews. “They invested not to save their jobs, but to save the hospital.”
The institution and its caretakers survived fires, epidemics and economic hardships. The infirmary grew into a full-fledged medical institution that housed the nation’s first private maternity hospital. Today the entire St. Joseph Medical Center complex covers 10 city blocks of downtown Houston, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 59 and Interstate 45. St. Joseph offers treatment and preventative care for more than 20 medical specialties, including cardiology, cancer care, behavioral health, intensive care/critical care, emergency care, neurosurgery, orthopedics and pediatrics. This vital healthcare center employs more than 650 board-certified physicians and more than 1,680 medical professionals and staff.
Attitude is everything
St. Joseph Medical Center is much more than its recently renovated buildings and directory of constantly improving medical facilities. This historical institution boasts a legacy of compassionate care established by the Sisters of Charity more than 100 years ago.The staff is as culturally diverse as the downtown population and workforce and is well known for their courtesy and kindness.This culture of caring is a big reason St. Joseph Medical Center was named at or near the top of Houston Business Journal’s Best Places to Work list (companies with more than 500 employees category) for 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“At the time when we (HPA and SJH Physician Purchasing Group) bought the hospital from CHRISTUS, there was a solid wall dividing executive offices from rest of the floor,” says Mathews. “First thing we did was tear down that wall.”
Opening up communication and committing to transparency proved to be the salvation of St. Joseph Medical Center. After dealing with the fallout of HPA’s bankruptcy – drastically shrunken credit, extreme fees –- every penny was scrutinized, but the hospital emerged leaner and stronger.
“We did all of that and we’re one of the best places to work in Houston,” say Mathews. “That’s because we engage our employees. They know what’s going on.”
Since partnering with lASIS Healthcare, St. Joseph Medical Center has transitioned to a new approach to accreditation called DNV Healthcare Accreditation, which focuses on quality, innovation and continual improvement, rather than pursuing a fault-finding or “gotcha” approach. Mathews praises the DNV accreditation process, explaining that the surveys target improvements in process and lead to constructive analysis and tools to make systems better. DNV materials describe their accreditation process as an engine for continuous quality improvement driven by the needs of each hospital, as opposed to a one-size-fits all inspection.
IASIS Healthcare has made tremendous capital investments since becoming the hospital’s majority owner in May 2011. Renovations and technology upgrades are apparent in every sector of the hospital complex. The recent IT revolution brought 900 new computers to the hospital complex.
“People are blown away by the facilities and quality they see,” says Mathews, although he admits that amidst the rebuilding process, St. Joseph hasn’t done enough to let the public know they are not only still around, but stronger than ever.
Collaborations in excellence
In Mathews’ words, St. Joseph Medical Center is “the Switzerland of medical schools.” The hospital takes an equal opportunity approach to collaborating with experts and institutions in Houston.
“Sometimes there are some town-and-gown issues between the medical schools and the non-teaching physicians at hospitals,” says Mathews. “That doesn’t exist here. A Baylor faculty member could be in the operating room alongside a UTMB anesthesiologist, and that’s just fine.”
With no turf wars to impede technology advancements and patient care, Mathews says St. Joseph gains a huge advantage. “It gives us the best of the best to work with – we give all the institutions the opportunity to participate in our programs. This yields tremendous benefits for the staff and patients. Being a teaching hospital keeps everyone striving to be at the highest level, academically minded to be at the forefront.”
This open-minded approach opens doors for groundbreaking partnerships and facilities. St. Joseph Medical Center’s long-standing relationship with the University of Texas Health Science Center made it possible for St. Joseph to partner with staff member and world-renowned thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Hazim J. Safi to develop a leading-edge cardiovascular program. Dr. Safi recruited his colleague Dr. Eyal Porat, who recently joined the staff, to help grow this important specialization for the hospital.
Also growing is a dedicated neurology and stroke program led by several neurologists and a top neurosurgeon on staff at St. Joseph..
St. Joseph Medical Center, a full-service hospital, has worked to move beyond the ordinary specialties, offering specialized care that other hospitals may not. St. Joseph currently offers medical care in 32 specialties. One example is The Center for Sleep Disorders at St. Joseph Medical Center, opened in 2009. The facility, which offers luxury furnishings donated by Jim McIngvale of Gallery Furniture, provides diagnostic testing for sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome and other sleep disorders. St. Joseph also is working to develop an epilepsy center within its sleep center facility.
The Women's Behavioral Program at St. Joseph was created to meet the needs of today's multi-tasking women. A serene and holistic environment has been created for women hospitalized for mood disorders. The facility has 19 private rooms and offers treatment through process and cognitive groups, therapeutic recreation, nursing education, relaxation group, dance/movement therapy as well as individual and family therapy.
Last May, St. Joseph announced its partnership with Boston-based Joslin Diabetes Center, a global leader in diabetes research, education and care and an affiliated institution of the Harvard Medical School. The Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at St. Joseph Medical Center offers some of the latest advances for treating diabetes and its complications as well as patient education and support services. Diabetes patients work with a dedicated, highly experienced team including a board certified endocrinologist, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and other medical and support professionals.
Just north of downtown, St. Joseph Medical Center plans to open two floors of the Heights Hospital by fall 2012. St. Joseph also is working to open a separate outpatient clinic in the Heights that will include outpatient imaging, emergency care and a Joslin Diabetes care center. A similar outpatient facility is planned for the Space Center area in Deer Park.
“It’s a remarkable place,” says Mathews. “To survive what we went through, we really emerged unscathed. Our recruitment efforts slowed down for a while, but we are gearing up on that.”
St. Joseph Medical Center is proud to deliver exceptional care in a wide range of areas, and for downtowners, it’s more convenient than other hospitals.
“St. Joseph Medical Center is an incredible place with an incredible medical staff and loyal, talented employees,” says Mathews. “The opportunity to work at a large urban teaching facility in conjunction with an innovative, strong, capital partner in IASIS in very appealing. The future is very bright for St. Joseph Medical Center.”
You’ve got connections
St. Joseph Medical Center extends an open invitation to downtown workers and residents to use the full-service hospital whenever a health care need arises. Through a program St. Joseph calls Corporate Healthcare Connection, downtowners can receive prompt medical attention. With a phone call, a few questions and a brief registration process, a Town Car will be dispatched to your address to pick up anyone who’s not feeling well.
Hospital staff members walk these patients through every step of their care, returning them to their pick-up address via Town Car at the end of their appointments. Emergency care, family practice and internal medicine physicians are available almost immediately, with specialists generally available within 48 -72 hours. Call 713.756.8600 to schedule services, Monday through Friday: 9 a.m.-3 p.m.