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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • '150 years and counting': Saint John's celebrating milestone, legacy of service

  • As the oldest city in Kansas, Leavenworth is home to numerous bits of interesting trivia.
    Here's one that's possibly surprising: Saint John Hospital is the oldest, private civilian hospital in both Kansas and the Kansas City metropolitan area. This month, the local institution is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
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  • As the oldest city in Kansas, Leavenworth is home to numerous bits of interesting trivia.
    Here's one that's possibly surprising: Saint John Hospital is the oldest, private civilian hospital in both Kansas and the Kansas City metropolitan area. This month, the local institution is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
    “We have a lot to celebrate for the history of Saint John’s in the Leavenworth area,” said Kathleen Conwell, marketing and public relations director for Saint John/Providence.
    “So, we're taking time to take a look back and see where we've been and then look to the future, which is why our tag is '150 years and counting.'"
    Saint John started its celebration this week with a float in the Leavenworth St. Patrick’s Day Parade, but the official 150th Anniversary Celebration kickoff is March 28th.  
    During Hospital Week, Saint John officials are planning a staff and volunteer picnic, as well as celebrating Saint John Day in July by attending a Kansas City T-Bones game and organizing a health fair.
    In September, an anniversary reception is planned to honor past staff and patients. And, on Nov. 10, a ceremony will take place for Founders’ Day.  
    Jodi Fincher, the hospital's chief nursing officer, has been with Saint John since 1988.
    Even in the face of constant upgrades to technology, medical science, and expertise, Saint John’s mission has remained steady, she said.
    “I think the most important thing is that St. John is a community hospital," Fincher said. "And, it has maintained that identity throughout all these years."
    “Being the best at serving this community, that is really our goal.  Not necessarily to do a lot, but to do it really well.”
    On March 15, 1864, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth opened doors to refugees fleeing Civil War battles, and a legacy of meeting community needs began.
    “Those first patients were taken in before they even had the beds delivered,” Conwell said. "… They presented at the door and the Sisters took them in.”
    “When you think to the mission of Saint John's Hospital, when the sisters started this 150 years ago, their mission was to provide health care to those in need — the best health care they could to everyone who came to their door."
    “We have a real tradition of doing that and doing it in the spirit of who they were: women whose mission went way beyond the day to day. We pride ourselves that we are continuing that tradition.”
    Fincher added, “It worked for 150 years. So, we feel like there's got to be something to that. That is a tradition we want to maintain.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Six nuns originally came to the area from Kentucky in 1858, at the behest of Bishop John Baptiste Miege, S.J., to open an orphanage and provide education for young women.
    They formed Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth when the city had 10,000 residents.
    But, “it soon became clear to them that the needs for health care could not be ignored," Conwell said.
    Sister Joanna Bruner served as the first hospital administrator, and may well have been the first woman to take on such a job West of the Mississippi. As the first trained nurse in Kansas, she ran the hospital for its first decade.  
    The first hospital location was at Seventh and Kiowa streets and had 65 beds.
    From 1903 to 1948, Saint John operated a nursing school, which became a part of the University of Saint Mary in 1932.
    In 1963, the hospital relocated to Saint Mary’s campus, and began building a new, modern facility. The first incarnation of the current buildings were opened in 1964.
    Saint John will soon begin its next phase of reinvention by opening a new state-of-the-art emergency care facility with direct access to Fourth Street. "You won't even have to come up the hill — we'll be right there," Conwell said.
    They hope the new ER will be open in September, but as Conwell said, “the guys with the backhoes are really determining our schedule.”
    Though Sisters of Charity sold the hospital to Prime Healthcare in April 2013, the organization remains heavily involved with the hospital.
    Fincher said she and other Saint John staffers are grateful for the Sisters' legacy and the continued involvement providing care to the community.  
    “(We’re thankful) for everything they did for the first 149 years and their continued support," she said.
    “In fact, more sisters are volunteering now than did when they owned the facility. They continue to be so involved in our mission.”
    As for the future, Conwell, Fincher, and Pat McBratney, marketing manager for Providence/Saint John, are all optimistic.  
    “The ER that we are constructing, not only will it be convenient, accessible and obviously state-of-the-art — I think it reflects our commitment to knowing what the needs of the community are, and to build and reinvest in the community," McBratney said.
    “We want to continually keep our finger on the pulse of our community,” Conwell said. “Our motto is ‘Expert care, close to home.’”
    "And, we're not going anywhere."

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