Health Care and Technology

Being inventive to infinity: Entrepreneurial spirit still strong after 125 years of health care

November 14, 2005

Today, the entrepreneurial spirit of the Daughters, who are Roman Catholic, lives on. They have a rich legacy to celebrate as they approach the 125th anniversary of the founding of the hospital that was the forerunner of St. Vincent Hospital Indianapolis.

"To do all that, these four Daughters of Charity had to pass the baton, the values and spirit along over many, many generations," said Dr. Malcolm Herring, a vascular surgeon at St. Vincent Hospital and physician liaison to mission services. "That speaks to a new level of entrepreneurship."

Herring said the Daughters, the largest community of religious women in the world, with 23,000 members internationally, were able to accomplish what they have because entrepreneurship is "embedded into their mission, vision and values." "It's not a statement gathering dust on a shelf somewhere down in the administrative office. It's something that's going on day-to-day, every day."

Octogenarian Sister Lucille Marie Beauchamp, professional archivist for the Daughters, said embracing change is one of the reasons they have survived over the years. "Health care today is so very different than it was in the past. We are noted for changing with the times. When society changes, we change with it to meet its needs."

Transitioning with the times

Ever forward-thinking, the sisters created the St. Vincent School of Nursing in 1896, which eventually graduated more than 2,400 nurses, to ensure they would have enough nurses to meet the needs of their growing hospital.

They also moved the hospital from its initial location on East Vermont Street to South and Delaware streets in 1889. In 1913 the hospital moved to the north side of downtown on the north bank of Fall Creek.

In 1964, Sister Mary Helen Neuhoff, a modern sister with a pioneer spirit, parlayed her negotiation skills into raising the funds to purchase the present site of St. Vincent Hospital Indianapolis.

The 1970s marked a time of great change for the sisters, as the role of administrators passed to the laity and their school of nursing ceased operation.

Beauchamp said one of the most innovative measures the sisters took to continue their mission was educating the health care leadership in the Daughters' core values - service to the poor, reverence, integrity, wisdom, creativity and dedication-as their role transitioned to governance and fund raising.

Keeping on track

"Always the focus was on quality," said Sister Sharon Richardt, chief mission officer for St. Vincent Health, "and looking at how technology could help our healing go further. Our foundation is very rooted in practical concerns."

Another local legend, Sister Carlos McDonnell, was responsible for creating the hospital's open-heart program.

"The interesting part of that was that most open-heart programs in the early '70s were based at universities," said Vincent Caponi, CEO of St. Vincent Health. "What the Daughters were doing was bringing a program like this to a community hospital. That meant that they were going to be under the microscope, so their program had to be just the best."

It evidently was. Just last month St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital and The Heart Center of Indiana, a St. Vincent affiliate, were ranked the top two hospitals in Indiana for cardiology and cardiac interventions, according to HealthGrades, the nation's leading provider of independent hospital ratings.

The sisters turned their original hospital into a regional network, helping hospitals in rural Indiana communities survive.

"We started with St. Vincent Hospital and we now have 16 other facilities that are part of St. Vincent Health," Richardt said. "So we've moved from being just a stand-alone hospital to a regional system. What does that do? That gives us a critical voice for our own state Legislature. It gives us a more powerful voice in terms of advocating for the poor. It also helps us to use the resources that we have to serve communities that can't afford it."

Though only eight sisters who are Daughters of Charity remain in the Indianapolis area today, they are still accomplishing great things and looking ahead to the future.

"They went from the $34.77 they had when they showed up here, to providing charity care of over $60 million annually," Herring said. "That's really quite amazing."
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