PASADENA — It has been only three months since Summit Health Ltd. took over ownership of the formerly Catholic St. Luke Hospital, but things are already beginning to change as Summit acts to rejuvenate and make profitable the operation of the beloved but antiquated 167-bed facility.
"I'm excited about the changes," said Barbara Sirignano, the head nurse in the hospital's progressive care ward who has been with St. Luke for six years.
"There will be so many more things we will offer to the community," she said. "Before we were mainly geriatrics, but with the new obstetrics unit and operating rooms, we will be more full-service."
Face Lift in Progress
Preliminary work has begun on improving the grounds, and the south wing, which will be totally remodeled later, is now getting a paint job and new flooring.
The announcement in October of the sale of the 167-bed facility, now named St. Luke Medical Center, sent ripples of surprise through the health-care and Catholic communities because Catholic hospitals are almost never sold to profit-making concerns.
But officials of St. Joseph Health Systems, which manages seven hospitals for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, said the order could not afford the capital improvements necessary for the 52-year-old facility, and that St. Luke's longstanding reputation for offering more personalized patient care than its larger counterparts was not enough to make it competitive with other hospitals in the area.
As part of the deal, Summit agreed to spend more than $4 million on capital improvements and at the same time to strive to maintain the caring atmosphere that drew many patients to the hospital, said Harry Adams, executive director who administers the hospital for Summit.
But in turning the hospital around financially, Summit has had to lay off about 10% of the hospital's work force.
'Lot of Dead Wood'
"There was a lot of dead wood, not enough work to go around, a lot of people pushing paper," said Sharon Connell, an emergency room nurse who has worked at St. Luke for six years.
"It was like a family but it was not functional," she said. Adams said the hospital now has 444 full-time employees.
Adams said that Summit will concentrate on aesthetics during the early stages of the renovation, because he believes the hospital will draw more patients if it looks more appealing.
One of Summit's first steps will be to paint the dingy hospital, which has been repainted only once in the past 52 years.
$5-Million Building Planned
"We plan on a soft peach color to replace the sandy beige," Adams said. "We are trying to retain the flavor of the old building--we don't want it to look new, but we do want it to look classy."
The hospital layout will be reorganized, and a $5-million building, which will house new operating rooms and an obstetrics department, will be constructed next to the main hospital, which sits on 13 acres of land on East Washington Boulevard near Altadena Drive.
Most of the new programs will focus on services for women.
"Women make the family decisions on health care, including choosing doctors and hospitals," Adams said. "So we will establish a women's health program that will run the gamut from osteoporosis to pre-menstrual syndrome.
"And we will reinstate the maternity department, with a birthing center and obstetrics in feminine decor. Obstetrics is the most pleasant hospital experience, so it is a good way to get patients come back."
Plan to Offer Abortions
The hospital had discontinued its maternity department 10 years ago when birth rates declined. When the department reopens, probably within two years, the hospital will offer abortions for the first time.
St. Luke also will establish a diabetes treatment center and expand its substance abuse program to include outpatient programs for alcohol and drug abusers.
Most of the employees interviewed expressed enthusiasm about the new programs, but agreed that the transition has been difficult.
'Dust Has Settled'
"It was extremely difficult during the changeover because it was a long time and people didn't know if they would lose their jobs," said Karen Powell, director of medical services, which provides administrative and clerical support for doctors on the staff.
"Now the ax has fallen and the dust has settled and things will get back to normal fairly soon," she said.
"The biggest negative has been some people leaving voluntarily who have been here for a long time," said Sirignano.
"They didn't want to cope with the change. A lot of St. Luke was run the way it was done in the 1930s and 1940s and needed to be redone."
Changes in Staffing
In addition to voluntary resignations, 44 employees were laid off, mostly workers in jobs unrelated to patient care, such as secretarial, dietary and housekeeping duties.