Reports of hospital’s possible closure spark worry in St. Paul

A sign giving directions to hospital entrances.
Community members and caregivers are concerned about the future of Minnesota's oldest hospital, St. Joseph's in downtown St. Paul. Here, the hospital is photographed on Friday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Recent indications that the owners of St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown St. Paul may be considering major changes, including its possible closure, have prompted concerns among community members and caregivers.

Fairview Health Services, the health system that owns the hospital, is losing tens of millions of dollars and looking to cut costs systemwide. Late last week, it announced cuts at its Bethesda Hospital location in St. Paul.

St. Joseph's Hospital, where a lot of mental health care and substance use disorder care takes place, is Minnesota’s oldest hospital. Some who work in the field are worried that it could be next in line for cuts.

"I think it's unfortunate because I think St. Joe's serves a lot of people," said Ashlee Herget, who works for Minnesota Recovery Connection, visiting patients in chemical dependency crisis.

On her way out of St. Joseph’s recently, she said she's heard rumors about a possible closure of the hospital. She said St. Joseph’s, which employs more than 2,300 people, is uniquely focused on connecting patients with outside resources that can help them stay well when they leave the hospital.

"I feel like they kind of go above and beyond to ensure that the patients are living their best possible life after discharge," she said.

A brick building with a cross on the facade.
St. Joseph's Hospital in downtown St. Paul. Advocates say the loss of beds dedicated to mental health and substance use treatment at St. Joseph’s would be a heavy blow.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

At a food truck outside the hospital, a St. Joseph's employee said she and her colleagues would like to know what's going on, but said she couldn’t elaborate because she's not authorized to speak with reporters.

James Hereford, CEO of Fairview Health Services, said he doesn't yet know what changes will come to St. Joseph’s. But he added: "Our commitment to St. Paul is absolute."

Hereford said that the health system is facing an $80 million net loss this year and that administrators are looking at numerous options systemwide to address the shortfall. He said the goal is to deliver needed care as efficiently as possible.

And he offered this assurance:

"We want to make sure that we're not simply closing the facility or changing the facility. What we're really committed to doing is making sure we're meeting the clinical and broader health needs of the city of St. Paul."

Hereford said Fairview is the largest provider of addiction and mental health services in Minnesota. St. Joseph's has more than 100 beds dedicated to mental health patients.

The prospect of losing even one of those beds alarms Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota.

"We don't have enough intensive resources, and so for the board to close down or even consider closing down this many beds for our system, it's just not OK,” she said. “It's really going to hurt people."

Adberholden said that for Fairview to cuts services at St. Joseph’s would be to go against its stated mission.

"This definitely would contradict their mission, their values and even their most recent community health needs assessment," she said.

Hereford disagreed. "It would be incorrect to state that we are walking away from those goals," he said. "There's been so much speculation. I'm just hoping the message comes through that we aren't walking away from St. Paul."

Hereford said he hopes to have a restructuring framework in place by early next year. He said no changes will be made without community input.