Drive south through Chicago, and you’ll pass Englewood, a neighborhood known for bad news. But, hospital leaders believe that a newly built care center will begin to rewrite the narrative.

St. Bernard Hospital Ambulatory Care Center opens its doors to the public June 7 — some 112 years after the community safety-net hospital first started treating patients, and the hospital and its community are as close as ever.

“The hospital has taken on a secondary mission to challenge some of the perceptions of the neighborhood,” says Diahann Sinclair, vice president, organizational and community development. “It typically makes headlines for crime, but you never hear about the people doing good work.”

Daily observations at the hospital and two community health needs assessments in 2012 and 2015 revealed some obvious health care holes in the neighborhood.

“We saw [that] the needs in the community were really for more outpatient services and expanded outpatient services,” says Charles Holland, president and CEO. “We found many residents were going well outside the community for some basic outpatient services — we wanted to respond to that.”

Patients also were flooding the emergency department in droves — which was essentially doubling as a primary care facility. The result was upset patients and an overworked ED, says Holland.

Mothers had no prenatal care and many high-risk babies were being born. Chronic disease issues such as asthma, diabetes and congestive heart failure also were prevalent ­— issues that require ongoing monitoring, says Holland.

With all that in mind, the planning began. A women’s wellness center expands the hospital’s capacity from three rooms to 10. OB-GYN services will take care of patients of all ages and there’s even a dietitian to educate new mothers.  

An MRI, social worker and physician offices are among the other services that make the center a one-stop shop for wellness. But, the 70,000-square-foot, $33 million building functions as more than that.

“It really is trying to engage the community in providing services closer to their homes, but also providing education so they can better take care of themselves,” says Holland.

Among those educational resources is a library that houses a wall of computers for residents to look up health-related needs. An occupational therapy room five times larger than the current area is equipped with a stage bedroom and bathroom to teach patients how to transition from the hospital to their own home.

Holland’s favorite space in the center, however, is a community forum room that seats 90 people and overlooks the neighborhood. Community meetings, health-related or not, are encouraged, and the hospital will host guest speakers and events for Englewood residents such as CPR training classes.

With St. Bernard being the largest employer in the area, Holland and Sinclair knew how important it would be not only to receive input from residents on the new building, but also from St. Bernard staff.

“We set up meetings with each clinic to find out how they functioned and what they needed, and designed an area that worked for them,”says Sinclair. “At the end of the day, we’re going to have a facility that is really a collaboration on all parts, internally and externally.”

Watch for a video next week with St. Bernard Hospital CEO Charles Holland and Diahann Sinclair, vice president of Organizational and Community Development.