Instead of bearing his name, the brass plate on William H. Jennings’ desk says, “How does this help the patient?”
“Every morning when I turn on the light in my office, it reminds me of why I’m here,” says Jennings, who in July joined Hartford HealthCare (HHC) as president of its Fairfield Region, which includes St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. “And whenever I have a visitor, whether it’s from the medical staff, someone from the community or a politician, as soon as they walk into my office they know what my priority is.”
That priority is shared throughout HHC and St. Vincent’s — and, if recent history is anything to go by, it shows. During the summer, the Bridgeport facility’s bariatrics department received the 2021 Women’s Choice award; its orthopedics department received the Joint Commission Gold Seal; and the hospital was named one of Connecticut’s best for 2021-’22 by U.S. News & World Report, which cited its heart failure, stroke and kidney failure treatments.
Jeffrey Flaks, president and CEO of Hartford HealthCare — which acquired St. Vincent’s in 2019 — says the accolades are reflective of the hospital’s and the system’s, focus on patient care and outcomes, with particular emphases on affordability, transparency and equity.
“We’re building out an ecosystem within the region,” Flaks says, “with home care, urgent care and primary care, along with community-based surgery centers and imaging centers, all of which are fully integrated into a single system.”
St. Vincent’s has been “such an historic hospital for so many years,” he adds — it opened in 1903 — “that we saw its potential and great opportunity” when it became available from previous operator Ascension.
The facility operates with more than 3,500 associates and includes a 473-bed community teaching hospital, a 76-bed inpatient psychiatric facility in Westport, a large multispecialty provider group and St. Vincent’s Special Needs Services for adults and children. Under HHC, it continues to operate as a nonprofit Roman Catholic hospital.
With St. Vincent’s, HHC now has more than 24,000 employees at its more than 350 locations across Connecticut.
Flaks says that a number of physical improvements are underway at St. Vincent’s, including several floors being dedicated to single, private beds and the addition of “a significant amount” of robotics-based medical technology, as well as an ongoing quest to attract talent in various specialties.
Jennings says that improvements are also being made to departments not normally seen by the public, including its pharmacy and instruments cleaning services.
“Culturally you’re never satisfied,” he adds. “You’re always looking to improve the quality of patient care, safety and outcomes.”
Those priorities were, of course, put to the test as never before during Covid-19, especially during the initial outbreak last year.
“Every day we were learning something new,” recalls Jurate Ivanaviciene, M.D., director of infectious disease at the hospital. “But we have a huge team of very dedicated physicians and we all pulled together.”
When it comes to the Delta variant, Ivanaviciene, like most of her peers, insisted that getting vaccinated was the best course. “If you’ve been vaccinated, you’re eight times less likely of getting the infection,” she says. “You’re 25 times less likely to end up hospitalized and, if you are hospitalized, it’s 25 times less likely that you will die.”
With infection rates going up, particularly among young people, she says: “It’s just so unnecessary. We still don’t know what the long-term effects of Covid-19 are. Not getting vaccinated could mean having to have a pacemaker or carrying an oxygen tank along in later years.”
Jennings says that HHC has mandated that all of its staff be vaccinated by Sept. 30. Minus a medical or spiritual exception, those refusing to do so face termination.
Meanwhile, St. Vincent’s is continuing to show its commitment to, and involvement with, the communities it serves. Its annual “Swim Across the Sound” event, canceled last year due to the virus, drew 75 participants on Aug. 7. Held to support area cancer patients and their families, as well as offering education to the public, the event — which involves swimming from Port Jefferson, New York, to Bridgeport’s Captain’s Cove — typically raises about $300,000.
This year’s edition actually went through the end of August, allowing “virtual” participation to those willing to run, swim, walk or bike ride for 15.5 miles, with another $50,000 expected through those efforts.
HHC also signed up for naming rights to what is now The Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater in Bridgeport, something Flaks says was done to support the community as well as to help the city “prosper and continue to define itself.”
Jennings notes that HHC has hosted a pair of “Shot to Win” incentives programs at the amphitheater, where those getting vaccinated at the facility can enter a random drawing for four free concert tickets.
“The accolades we receive are nice, but the only reason we’re here is because of the patients,” he reminds us. “Even with all the headwinds we, and the health care industry at large, are facing — an aging population, federal and state constraints — our mission is to improve access to quality health care.”
For more, visit stvincents.org.