ST PAUL, Minn. — St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul — which stood for more than 150 years — shut down about a year ago.
Plagued by mounting financial losses, the closure really concerned health experts then who were worried about the growing number of people experiencing mental health crises.
In its place, M Health Fairview announced plans to open what it's calling a "hub of health and wellness" programs. Fairview describes it as a community-based center meant to provide better, more equitable access to care across many different communities.
Already, there are noticeable changes — particularly where there was once the hospital's emergency department. It's now hosting a meal box program.
Several youth with The Sanneh Foundation pack boxes almost daily full of locally-sourced food that feed hundreds of families every week.
"Right now we've seen a lot of need out there when it comes to food access and food insecurity," said Nutritional Services Manager Jenn Hudson, who says the group makes sure the meals serve diverse cultures at community centers, churches and schools.
"They're giving them the ability to learn cooking skills, they're allowing them to gain knowledge of other cultures and they'll allow them to use staples in their pantry in a more healthful way," said Hudson.
The group is just one of several new partnerships with M Health Fairview, which is the largest health system in the state.
"It's clear disparities are getting worse," said the center's Executive Director Diane Tran. "The strategies that have been tried over time for health systems to do to, rather than with communities, aren't working, so we need to think of different ways to do that."
Besides healthy food access, Tran says the center will provide addiction care, senior day programs and stress resilience, as well as continued COVID-19 services, like vaccination events that are conducted by some of its new leaders called "cultural brokers."
She says to consider the brokers like a navigator of sorts who connect communities of color and immigrant communities to healthcare services.
"That could range from helping translate letters sent out by a government agency that was only available in English to helping complete forms to be eligible for SNAP or WIC or other key programs or helping call a utility company," said Tran.
Last year, the brokers had 3,444 visits with their clients. It's a testament, Fairview says, that it's dedicated to helping people lead less overwhelming lives.
"We've been doing that work for a number of years but this new center gives us the chance to put a stake in the ground even further," said Tran. " At a time when our communities really need to see change, urgency and a commitment to health equity and equity in our communities."
As for the meal box program, Hudson says it's a partnership that, as of now, will run through December. Many of the youth will work there through the summer until school starts.
"It's a learning opportunity and it's workforce development," said Hudson. "The way they're connecting that to food and food access and food security is amazing."
Construction still does continue inside at the old hospital building at this point, but Fairview says the center's grand opening is planned for next week.
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