GRAND RAPIDS — Mercy Health’s partnership with the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids to plan the future of the religious order’s 34-acre Marywood Campus leverages a natural connection between the two organizations.
That’s because Mercy’s parent corporation Trinity Health has similar arrangements with orders in Ann Arbor, Monroe and elsewhere in Indiana, said Dave McEwen, COO at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids.
As a Catholic health system, Mercy Health also sees “a clear alignment of values and culture” with the Dominican Sisters, McEwen said. When Mercy Health was invited to consider working with the Grand Rapids order, “we thought if not us, who else?” he said.
“We have a pretty deep bench when it comes to specific competencies and working with communities like that,” McEwen said. “We thought we — Mercy Health and Trinity Health — were really uniquely qualified to guide the Sisters through the visioning process and when a solution was identified, we would be in a position to activate that solution.”
The planning process will look at the future uses of the century-old Marywood Campus along Fulton Street east of downtown Grand Rapids. The site features several buildings, including the 13-year-old Marywood Health Center nursing home, residential halls, offices and a conference center. Planning will focus initially on continuing to provide housing and care for Sisters living at the campus.
Mercy Health envisions establishing a primary care medical practice on campus and senior living across the continuum of care, including independent and assisted living and skilled nursing care. The primary care practice could include family, internal and geriatric medicine and serve patients from the surrounding community in addition to the Dominican Sisters, McEwen said.
Repurposing the campus also presents “some interesting collaborative-type opportunities with education and training institutions” for medical students and those studying a health field to spend time at the medical practice to learn about care for the elderly, he said.
If the Dominican Sisters want, Mercy Health could also take over management and maintenance of the campus in the future, leaving the congregation to focus on its ministry and social work in the community.
The Dominican Sisters, with Mercy Health as an adviser, will decide what ultimately occurs at the campus. The planning process over the next year or two will include a market study and community needs assessment, as well as looking at the housing needs of the Dominican Sisters.
In its proposal to the Dominican Sisters, Mercy Health focused on “what could we bring to the Sisters that’s unique but that also wasn’t a stretch for us,” he said.
“We wanted to make sure that whatever we put on the table was a solid competency that we weren’t going to outsource for any particular expertise,” McEwen said. “Nested within that broad vision is a desire to take care of the Sisters first. They, too, need housing as they age, and different types of housing. We want to make sure that the campus is developed in a way that meets their living needs for as long as they need them.”
The Marywood Campus is presently home to about 120 sisters. The Dominican Sisters a year ago sought proposals for the future of the campus on East Fulton Avenue.
Among the drivers to begin planning for the future is the need to upgrade independent residential areas and the congregation’s continued mission work in Grand Rapids, said Sister Maureen Geary, the order’s prioress. Some of the buildings on the campus date back 95 years.
“We want to be ahead of the curve that as space becomes available that we’re planning on how to use it,” Geary said. “This in some sense is the continuation of our narrative. It’s a new chapter in our story.”