St. Joseph’s Health Pursues Another 150 Years of Mission-Inspired Excellence

By Josh Garcia
Monday, April 29, 2019

Spurred by the mission and legacy of Saint Marianne Cope, St. Joseph’s Health is committed to improving local access to quality health care for all of Central New York.

In 1869, a small group of women purchased a dance hall and saloon in Syracuse, New York, with the intention of converting the space into a 15-bed hospital. Their mission was to provide care for everyone in the community, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion or economic standing.


Saint Marianne Cope and other Sisters of St. Francis opened St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1869 in response to a need for basic health care in a city of immigrants.

The group of women belonged to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities and followed the leadership of Mother Marianne Cope, who was canonized as a saint in 2012. Their hospital, originally known as St. Joseph’s Hospital, was the first in Syracuse and one of the earliest in the country.

“Saint Marianne helped establish two of the first hospitals in Central New York,” says Deborah Welch, Vice President for Mission Integration and Community Health and Well-Being at St. Joseph’s Health. “She was the administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital for six years after it opened. Her leadership was grounded in faith, values and a commitment to service.”

St. Joseph’s Hospital grew and eventually became St. Joseph’s Health, but the mission of Saint Marianne and the Sisters of St. Francis has remained the foundation of the historic health organization’s comprehensive and compassionate approach to care.

“Our community has grown from Onondaga County to the entire Central New York region,” says Mark Murphy, Chief Strategy Officer at St. Joseph’s Health. “Though St. Joseph’s Health has transitioned dramatically from its beginnings to where we are today, our success comes from adhering to the mission and values that Saint Marianne established 150 years ago.”

Mother Marianne’s Mission

While the St. Joseph’s Health system now encompasses over 450 hospital beds and nearly 5,000 employees, Saint Marianne’s life and dedication to helping others remains an important part of new providers’ education when they join the organization.

“During orientation, every new colleague learns about Saint Marianne and the Sisters of St. Francis,” Welch says. “We’re blessed to have the Saint Marianne Cope Shrine and Museum right on our campus, which allows us to fully understand and appreciate her life of service.”

New providers also participate in a training session that helps them reflect on Saint Marianne’s values and how they can demonstrate them in their career and daily lives. A cornerstone of these values is a dedication to serving all members of the community, especially those who are less fortunate than others.

“The Sisters of St. Francis came to Syracuse because they saw a need to serve the community, including those who were poor and underserved,” Welch says. “That commitment to the poor means serving people who experience poverty in many ways. They may be poor in physical, emotional, spiritual or economic being. Caring for individuals in all spheres of life creates a healthier community.”

Partnerships and Population Health

St. Joseph’s Health has formed many strategic partnerships in order to better serve the community and deliver on Saint Marianne’s vision. In 2015, the organization joined Trinity Health, which allowed for the creation of the Transforming Communities Initiative (TCI). TCI is meant to establish and advance partnerships with community stakeholders to promote the development and continuation of local health and wellness programs.

“Thanks to TCI, work has advanced in the areas of tobacco use, reduction of childhood obesity, and creating healthier environments for people to live, work and play,” Welch says. “Partnerships with the Onondaga County Health Department, Syracuse City School District, CenterState CEO, American Heart Association, HealtheConnections and others have aided these initiatives.”

One example of these initiatives includes the Growing Healthy Hearts program, which provides students and families special access to health activities, lessons and newsletters. The goal of the program is to nurture healthy habits within the community. Another example is the Work Train program, which is committed to offering career opportunities to people who are unemployed or underemployed.

“As a community anchor on the Northside, we are committed to neighborhood revitalization and economic stability of local residents,” Welch says. “We seek to address both physical well-being and the social influencers of health, such as housing, education and employment.”

TCI also supports community diabetes prevention, improved access to healthy foods in food deserts around the state and T21 legislation to limit access to tobacco products for people under 21 years old. Programs such as TCI exhibit St. Joseph’s Health commitment to improving population health and embracing preventive medicine programs across New York.

“The transition to Trinity Health positioned St. Joseph’s Health to move into the population health arena,” Murphy says. “The backing, support and vision of Trinity Health have contributed to the overall health and wellness of the community.”

St. Joseph’s Health will continue to aggregate community resources and work with partner organizations to improve community health, thus limiting the need for acute care and services among local residents.

Inspired Innovation: The Cardiovascular Institute

The move from illness-driven care to population and prevention-focused initiatives is a relatively recent development in the healthcare industry and for St. Joseph’s Health, but it stems from a long history of medical innovations that Saint Marianne contributed to during her time at St. Joseph’s Hospital and beyond.


Surgeons perform a procedure in the state-of-the-art, nationally ranked A. John Merola Cardiovascular Institute.

Before hand washing and sterilization of medical instruments became standard practices in the medical field, Saint Marianne established both precautions at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She took those practices with her to Hawaii, where she cared for hundreds of people with leprosy over the course of 35 years.

“She told her fellow Sisters to follow her hand-washing regimen, and they wouldn’t catch leprosy,” says Leslie “Les” Paul Luke, President and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health. “She was right.”

Long after Saint Marianne passed away, innovation continued to flourish at St. Joseph’s Health, which became home to the first successful open-heart surgery performed in Central New York. The procedure took place in 1958 and was an early instance of using induced hypothermia to aid in open-heart surgery.

“We’ve done a good job of continuing innovation in our cardiovascular care program since then,” Luke says. “We recently invested approximately $30 million into our Cardiovascular Institute.”

St. Joseph’s Health Cardiovascular Institute is recognized as a Cardiovascular Center of Excellence by the American Heart Association and is one of only eight hospitals in the nation to receive this distinction. The recent addition of the Care Flight air medical transportation program to St. Joseph’s Health has helped bolster the Cardiovascular Institute and expand its capabilities.

“In the past, even if an emergency patient was transported by helicopter, the helicopter would have to land at the airport, and an ambulance would bring the patient to St. Joseph’s Health,” Luke says. “We needed to get patients in for open heart and cardiac catheterization procedures faster, which is why we have a new helipad to support the Care Flight program.”

The Cardiovascular Institute has also implemented hybrid patient rooms that can be converted for surgical procedures at a moment’s notice without the need to move patients. This helps improve the patient experience while minimizing delays before time sensitive procedures.

Inspired Innovation: St. Joseph’s College of Nursing

Luke credits much of the Cardiovascular Institute’s success to the number of gifted physicians who have joined St. Joseph’s Health during its history.


The St. Joseph’s College of Nursing advocates a holistic approach to nursing, and the curriculum goes beyond scientific nursing courses to encompass communication, cultural sensitivity, ethical and legal issues, leadership, conflict resolution, and decision-making.

“Our hospital has been fortunate to attract talented surgeons, which is related to having a teaching program here, too — itself another innovation in St. Joseph’s Health’s history,” Luke says. “We had the first teaching hospital in Central New York, going back to 1872.”

During that time, Saint Marianne invited Geneva Medical College to establish their school in Syracuse. Once there, the college could take advantage of St. Joseph’s Hospital to clinically train its medical students. Geneva Medical College would eventually become the Syracuse University College of Medicine, now known as SUNY Upstate Medical University College.

“Many talented physicians have come through the school,” Luke says. “We still have a strong residency program that accepts about 25 candidates a year, and quite a few of them opt to stay in the Syracuse area.”

St. Joseph’s Health is also home to the St. Joseph’s College of Nursing, which was established in 1898 and has since graduated more than 4,000 students.

“Over the last decade, the college has doubled in size, partnered with Le Moyne College to create a BSN option for students, and has offered accelerated and weekend program options,” says AnneMarie Walker-Czyz, RN, EdD, NEA-BC, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of St. Joseph’s Health. “St. Joseph’s College of Nursing fosters the growth and development of our nurses through tuition assistance, role expansion, national certification, and opportunities to participate in local, regional and national conferences.”

The investment in nurses from both St. Joseph’s Health and St. Joseph’s College of Nursing has paid off, with many nurses investing their talents back into St. Joseph’s Health and the community at large.

“Our nurses lead at every level of the organization,” Walker-Czyz says. “They create new care delivery models, such as expansion in home care and patient navigation, and commit to having the highest level of acute care competencies to care for the most critically ill.”

Magnet Recognition

The dedication of nurses and other staff has earned St. Joseph’s Health a number of accreditations, certifications and recognitions throughout its history (see “Awards and Distinctions”). These honors require thorough application and review processes to ensure providers and practices meet benchmarks in excellence within their respective fields and service lines. Of these distinctions, one of the more noteworthy is Magnet designation, which is awarded by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).


St. Joseph’s Health nurses earned the highly coveted Magnet designation, placing the hospital among the best hospitals in the United States.

“The process for Magnet designation and redesignation is rigorous,” Walker-Czyz says. “Magnet recognition establishes and reaffirms that St. Joseph’s Health is among the best hospitals in the United States.”

After deciding to apply for Magnet recognition, nurses, administration, and clinical and support service staff created a strategic plan for securing and improving patient outcomes to meet or exceed the highest standards in the country.

“Once several years of outstanding performance is secured, the application process begins,” Walker-Czyz says. “We submitted over 3,000 pages of supporting documents to ANCC’s Commission on Magnet Recognition to be considered for a redesignation site visit, which was awarded to us.”

St. Joseph’s Health met or exceeded all Magnet standards during the site visit.

“The appraisers remarked that St. Joseph’s nurses were among the most dedicated to continuous quality improvement for patient outcomes that they had seen,” Walker-Czyz says.

Despite how far St. Joseph’s Health has come, its staff continues to honor Saint Marianne by building on current programs and practices.

“I feel a very close tie to Saint Marianne because I grew up in Hawaii and knew about her work there,” Luke says. “We are continuing her mission everyday on a larger scale than she probably could have imagined.”

St. Joseph’s Health: A Time Line

1869 – Sister Marianne Cope and the Sisters of St. Francis found St. Joseph’s Hospital

1888 – Hospital expands to 120 beds

1898 – St. Joseph’s College of Nursing opens

1926 – Hospital expands to 235 beds, includes maternity and pediatric departments

1958 – Hospital performs first open-heart surgery in Central New York

1970 – Hospital opens first NICU within the region

1983 – Franciscan Health Support is formed, offering home healthcare services

2002 – Hospital earns its first Magnet recognition

2010 – St. Joseph’s acquires North Medical Family Physicians

2012 – Mother Marianne is canonized as a saint

2012 – New emergency department opens

2015 – St. Joseph’s Health becomes part of Trinity Health

2015 – Ralph and Christina Nappi Surgical Tower opens

2018 – Cardiovascular Institute opens