Large states like Florida are chock full of commercial health care options. There are over 300 hospitals in Florida, several medical schools, stand-alone ERs, and there’s no shortage of docs-in-a-box for patients seeking a quick checkup.
But what many may not know is the Sunshine State is also home to the largest nonprofit health care system in the country, which doubles as the largest Catholic health system the world over. Ascension Healthcare is a faith-based health care organization dedicated to providing health care that leaves no one behind, spending millions of dollars each year caring for the poor and uninsured.
Ascension Healthcare, which has roots in 21 states, employs more than 10,000 Floridians and operates two health systems in Florida — Sacred Heart Health System in Northwest Florida and St. Vincent’s Healthcare in Northeast Florida.
The Sacred Heart Health System spans 200 miles of the Gulf Coast from Pensacola to Apalachicola, operating four hospital campuses, a children’s hospital, physician offices, a skilled-nursing facility and several outpatient centers. The St. Vincent’s Health System, based in Jacksonville, is a network of three acute-care hospitals, a long-term skilled nursing facility, primary care centers, medical laboratories and a health outreach ministry.
The hospital system has had a presence in Florida for more than 100 years and delivers more than $50 million in charity care to poverty-stricken Floridians annually.
That’s no surprise considering Ascension’s core mission is “rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus as a healer” and their commitment to “serving all persons, with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable.” Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola alone provided $29.6 million in charity care and another $25 million in 2018, more than twice that of the other nonprofit hospital in Pensacola.
That “special attention” is manifested in its focus on infants and children of poor families; providing free flu shots, and osteoporosis and heart-health screenings to Florida seniors; urban communities in Northeast Florida; and women.
In addition to providing care to low-income and uninsured women, Ascension’s Family Medicine Residency Program in Northeast Florida has graduated hundreds of physicians since its inception in 1972 and 60 percent of those medical doctors are women.
Ascension is many times the only provider willing to set up shop in underserved regions of the state. Take for example the Studer Family Children’s Hospital in Pensacola. As the regional Pediatric Trauma Referral Center, the Children’s Hospital is a 117-bed facility that offers a wide range of services to meet all of the a child’s medical needs, from a pediatric emergency room and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to a medical staff of more than 120 board-certified physicians across 29 pediatric specialties. But most important to the region, since its opening in 1969, the Children’s Hospital has provided quality care to children, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.
Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast has consistently made the list of top hospitals in the country for patient satisfaction, and in 2016 it, along with Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf were two of 844 hospitals nationwide to earn an “A” rating from The Leapfrog Group.
Access to health care is a perennial issue in the legislature with the major consideration being costs to the state budget. Ascension Healthcare’s Sacred Heart and St. Vincent’s hospitals have endured a lot over the last couple years, particularly in light of Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle, but regardless of politics, hurricanes, and a fluid regulatory environment, we should pray this Catholic health care system will be around another 100 years providing care and community benefit to north east Florida and the Panhandle.