Catholic Health: ‘You have to position yourself for survivability and thrive-ability’

In January 4, 2021

By   – Reporter, Buffalo Business First
Dec 31, 2020, 4:00pm EST


A series of proactive moves by Catholic Health have pushed the Buffalo health system into the public eye this year, while helping to ensure the people who need it most have access to care.

First, there was the system’s innovative plans in the early days of the pandemic to convert the Sisters of Charity Hospital St. Joseph Campus into a Covid-only acute care hospital — the nation’s first. That was quickly followed by converting a closed nursing home in Orchard Park into a post-acute treatment facility for people who were not ready or could not yet return home. The two sites cared for more than 500 Covid patients over a four-month period.

Both plans led to statewide and national attention, with CEO Mark Sullivan taking on a leadership role to help other hospitals and public health planners outside the region learn from Catholic Health’s example.

“At Catholic Health we wanted to create certainty,” Sullivan said. “We looked at our continuum … How could we leverage the assets within Catholic Health and the community to better serve the community?”

The next move came this fall after financial difficulties at the bankrupt Eastern Niagara Hospital worsened during the pandemic. Catholic Health stepped up to work with the system. That partnership now includes a plan for Catholic Health to provide management assistance and shared services with its Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston and to build a $37 million hospital in Lockport when the existing hospital shuts down in 2023.

Catholic Health isn’t flush with cash to make all this happen. The system ended 2019 with a deficit and has long projected it will lose money in 2020 as well. But that shouldn’t mean individuals who need it most should not have access to care, Sullivan said.

Sullivan points to an ethical responsibility, especially for a Catholic organization dedicated to helping serve the poor and needy.

“The moral obligation of 80,000 people not having health care, that must make you take a pause,” he said. “Looking at that, what can we build that’s sustainable?”

Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped Catholic Health to coordinate Covid-19 vaccine distribution across Western New York as part of a new statewide hub system. The goal is to create a distribution system and network that ensures vaccines will reach people in a fair and equitable way across Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

Going forward, a new strategic plan adopted in January — the first in 12 years — and the implementation of a $135 million electronic medical record system on the Epic platform will help even more, Sullivan has said, connecting people throughout the system and allowing them to receive care at the most appropriate sites.

“You have to position yourself for survivability and thrive-ability,” he said. “Margins will change, and margins will get better but it’s about moving forward.”

Catholic Health

Workforce: 10,000-plus

Operating budget: $1.2 billion

Health system components: Four hospitals with five campuses in two counties, plus two affiliate hospitals; three skilled nursing facilities; home and community-based care division.