By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center renovates and expands its facility
Joseph Scicchitano couldn’t be happier. As director of facilities at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Scicchitano has witnessed the near completion of the first phase of the center’s Facilities Master Plan in which he played a major role. “It’s rewarding to see the preliminary ideas of the plan come to fruition,” remarked Scicchitano.
A community landmark in Syracuse since 1869, when five Sisters of St. Francis transformed a dance hall and bar into a 15-bed hospital, St. Joseph’s is continuing to grow into a state-of-the-art facility.
St. Joseph’s has renovated and expanded its campus to keep pace with advancements in health care and medical technology, to more serve more adequately its growing patient population and to align the look of the hospital with its north side neighborhood.
Scicchitano, St. Joseph’s physicians and staff members and a local architectural firm devised the plan three years ago. “In order to be able to keep current, we thought it was time to get everyone together to see what our needs were,” said Scicchitano.
First and foremost, they realized the parking situation needed to be improved at the center. As a result, the existing 430-space parking garage at St. Joseph’s is being replaced with an 800-space garage that is scheduled to be completed in January 2007. Scicchitano explained that because they are constructing the parking garage as a “design/build“ (it was built as it was designed) project, the garage would be completed one year earlier than was originally planned. “It’s been challenging,” commented Scicchitano. “We wanted to get the garage open by 2007. We’ve heard some very positive comments about the construction of the new garage. People are very happy and excited about the anticipated opening.”
Connected to the parking garage is the new three-story 60,000 sq. ft. Medical Office Centre, which is also scheduled to open in January 2007.
Last August work began on the hospital lobby to improve access to the hospital for patients and visitors. Two stories high, the new lobby will be larger, more functional and allow for expansion of clinical space. The second level of the lobby will connect the hospital to the new Medical Office Centre/Parking Garage by a pedestrian bridge. A convenient, covered entryway located on a street that is limited to one-way traffic will be provided for dropping off patients and visitors. Scicchitano said the new improvements would help patients arrive at their destination in an easier, faster and less stressful manner. This project has an anticipated completion date of July 2007.
Scicchitano also mentioned that changes have been made to the exterior campus to create a more park-like setting in order to help it blend in with the surrounding neighborhood. “Working with the architectural firm, we have developed standards for making the campus more aesthetically pleasing and safer,” explained Scicchitano. Trees, flowers and shrubs have been planted throughout the campus and benches have been installed. Light poles have been replaced and are continuing to be replaced in the lighting district of the campus. Scicchitano plans to hang banners from the poles.
Included in the outdoor landscape is the Walkway of Caring, a scenic garden paved with bricks that have been donated by supporters of St. Joseph’s. The courtyard provides a quiet place for reflection and tranquility for patients, families and visitors.
Scicchitano said plans are in the works to improve the interior and exterior “way-finding” system on the campus. The directional signage will be improved. Plans include a first phase of improving the signs located in front of the buildings and on the sides. After that, the focus will be to improve the signage inside the buildings. The project is slated for completion by the end of 2007.
Another way in which St. Joseph’s will be improved is with the expansion and renovation of its dental office, located in the Physicians’ Office Building. In 2007, the dental office plans to expand its facilities from seven to 10 dental exam areas and will include three private exam areas. The office space and reception area will be expanded to help ensure patient confidentiality, and a new waiting room and furniture for dental patients are also planned. New equipment will be purchased for the three new exam areas along with the physical expansion, which is needed to help the office continue to provide dental services to an underserved population. The dental office serves a diverse population, including Spanish-speaking immigrants, patients of Hmong descent and refugees from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Somalia and elsewhere. Program director Dr. Richard Mayne said, “Adding three more chairs will give us a lot more capacity for treating people in a more timely manner.” The dental office receives Medicaid as well as other patient referrals from throughout Central New York. While 73 percent of its patients are Medicaid eligible, the office cannot respond to all the demands due to space constraints at the current site. With funding from a Community Capital Action program grant, the dental office will be able to see 3,000 more patients annually, bringing the total patient visits to 12,600. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007.
The dental office provides general dentistry and specialties, including periodontics, pedodontics, prosthodontics, oral surgery, endodontics and orthodontics. Currently, attending dental faculty, who are all practicing dentists in the community, supervise four dental residents. The group of more than 60 dentists volunteers their time as faculty on a rotating basis where they oversee and assist the dental residents in learning many dental procedures, such as pedodontics and oral surgery. Mayne explained that one year spent in a dental residency program is considered to be the equivalent of five years of private practice for the resident. The program has been in existence since 1975.
Regarding phase two of the Facilities Master Plan, Scicchitano said that the hospital administration is in the process of determining the initiatives of a strategic plan. Kathy Ruscitto, senior vice president of St. Joseph’s, said the center is very committed to the surrounding north side community. “We worry about the issues on the north side,” Ruscitto said. St. Joseph’s routinely provides community health fairs and screening in the neighborhood. Additionally, St. Joseph’s staff serves on the TNT (Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today) committee. TNT is an organization that involves neighborhood residents, businesses, and organizations in planning for their neighborhoods.
Another way in which St. Joseph’s has invested in the north side is through the creation of the Guaranteed Mortgage Program. It’s a program that makes it easier for St. Joseph’s full-time employees who have completed at least one year of employment to purchase a home.
Under the program, St. Joseph’s provides mortgage guarantees to employees who purchase homes in a defined area of Syracuse’s north side. As a result, qualified participants may need little to no down payment. Only single-family homes, two-family homes or townhouses located in the neighborhoods surrounding St. Joseph’s main campus are eligible for the program.
Ruscitto said that St. Joseph’s sponsors a number of not-for-profit organizations in the area. The Center supports the Heart Walk, which is held every year in April; the Boys and Girls Clubs; the Dunbar Association, which is a multi-service family center; and Francis House, which provides a home and an extended family to people with terminal illness.