Virtua acquires Lourdes Health System

By Pete Sanchez

CAMDEN — Sixty-nine years to the day since its doors first opened on 1600 Haddon Avenue here and the Franciscan Sisters of the Allegany welcomed all to come in and be healed, a new era has begun for Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. On Monday, July 1, Virtua Health celebrated its acquisition of Lourdes Health System with a celebration that began in the medical center chapel and included hospital administration, staff, and Bishop Dennis Sullivan.

Bishop Sullivan praised the covenant between the Diocese of Camden and Virtua Health — to maintain the medical center’s Catholic identity and values — as “good for all the people of South Jersey especially nearby in Camden and Gloucester counties. This is good for the city of Camden, for Virtua and for Catholic health care.”

“With admiration for Virtua’s reputation for excellence in health care and for their responsible management of their facilities, it has been a pleasure for the Catholic Church to partner with them for this arrangement,” he said.

Referencing the program’s Scripture reading of the Good Samaritan who assisted the injured man, Bishop Sullivan focused his words on hospital administration and staff, and echoed Jesus’ call to “Go and do likewise” by

“There are too, too many,” he said, that health care “in all its divisions — insurance, pharmaceuticals, government, coalitions, health systems — pass by. May this place not be in their company.”

During the celebration, Virtua honored Lourdes’ past, present and future.  A replica of the San Damiano Cross, which Saint Francis of Assisi prayed before while hearing the call to help the poor and marginalized, represented the Franciscan Sisters’ mission to do the same in Camden. An image illustrating the parable of the Good Samaritan represented the work of Lourdes staff, who have shared in the center’s healing ministry. A lantern represented Virtua’s commitment to be a beacon of light and hope for the community in the following years.

The 30-foot statue of Our Lady of Lourdes atop the hospital will be lit blue through July 7 to celebrate the uniting of the two health systems. (In keeping with Lourdes tradition, it will be lit green if there is a transplant surgery during the week.)

As South Jersey grew in population before and after World War II in the 1940s, Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace, the first Bishop of Camden, remembered the care the Franciscan Sisters of the Allegany had given his mother in her final years in New York City, and invited them to build a hospital in Camden.

The Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary agreed to sell a portion of their property at Haddon Avenue and Euclid Street in Camden, and construction of the new hospital began in September 1947. Two and a half years later, the 300-bed building was complete.

Today, in addition to the Camden facility, Lourdes Medical Center in Burlington County, Lourdes Medical Associates, and Lourdes Cardiology Services are now all part of Virtua.

The combined health system includes 280 care locations and 100-plus buildings. It has more than 13,000 employees, including 2,850 clinicians.

In a statement announcing the acquisition, Virtua said it expects to deliver approximately 8,600 babies, treat 325,000 visitors in its emergency rooms, and schedule more than 600,000 outpatient appointments annually. It also said the acquisition will benefit the area poor who have come to rely on Lourdes.

“The integration of the two not-for-profit health systems combines the high-quality care delivered at Virtua with advanced, specialized care provided at Lourdes — especially in areas like cardiovascular surgery, complex neurosurgery, and transplant services. As a result, Virtua now offers a full continuum of services to meet the needs of South Jersey residents, particularly those in low-income, underserved neighborhoods,” it said.

“This is truly an incredible moment,” said Dennis Pullin, President and CEO of Virtua Health at the July 1 ceremony. “We are fortunate to serve, to help the community get well and stay well.”