Providence Healthcare still caring 150 years later

By 
  • May 25, 2007

{mosimage}TORONTO - The next 150 years probably won’t be like the last 150, but Providence Healthcare wants some things to remain the same.

“We would love to be able to provide compassionate, quality care for the next 150 years,” said Providence Health Care spokeswoman Rosemary MacGilchrist.

Today that’s what Providence Healthcare (still Providence Villa in the minds of many) does through three distinct but linked operations. The institution includes:

  • a 347-bed hospital for rehabilitation and complex continuing care;

  • the Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence for long-term care;

  • Providence Community Centre which provides community-based health care through outreach clinics.

And it’s not that different from the original vision of Bishop Armand de Charbonnel and the Sisters of St. Joseph. In 1855 Toronto’s bishop had asked the sisters to open a house for “the immigrants, the young and old, the invalid and the destitute; open to all, without distinction of creed to be called a House of Providence.” De Charbonnel was thinking of the summer of 1847 when hundreds of Irish refugees died on Toronto’s shore, and the continuing problems Muddy York faced with typhus and cholera.

When the first House of Providence opened in 1857 Louis Pasteur had just discovered how fermentation worked, a U.S. court ruled that black people aren’t citizens in the Dred Scott case, Britain’s parliament passed a law making it possible for a woman to sue for divorce (she had to prove infidelity plus desertion, whereas the husband only had to prove infidelity), and Pope Pius IX had re-established the hierarchy in England and Wales but hadn’t yet come up with the Syllabus of Errors.

However the world may have changed, the idea of providence remains central for a Catholic health institution, said Bishop Richard Grecco in his homily for the 150th anniversary Mass in the Providence Healthcare chapel May 17.

“The word ‛Providence’ challenges this institution to bear witness to the fact it is God who cares for us,” Grecco said.

Providence continues to try to extend care to those who might otherwise be neglected, said MacGilchrist. The Tamil Care Giver project supports people in the Tamil community who may not be fully aware of how Ontario’s health care system can help them care for aging parents. The Alzheimer Day Care program allows spouses and children of Alzheimer patients a break from constant care and monitoring necessary for a person with this debilitating form of dementia.

Providence has carved out a niche caring for people recovering from a stroke whose rehabilitation may take longer than normal, and who may never fully recover.

“We’ve really gained a reputation for our expertise in rehabilitation, particularly with adults who might not be candidates for active rehabilitation elsewhere. We offer a slower, more gradual rehab,” said MacGilchrist.

As Toronto and the medical system have changed over a century and a half, Providence has had to fit into a system which values specialization.

“We’ve evolved. We’re a leading edge rehab facility,” said MacGilchrist.

But when the rehab is over, Providence is still there for the frail and the vulnerable, as Grecco discovered when he had to distribute communion to a congregation with as many in wheelchairs as there were people who could walk up the centre aisle to receive communion.

Though the Sisters of St. Joseph may no longer be running Providence Healthcare, there’s no doubt they’ve put their stamp on the hospital and its mission.

“Providence is not merely the name of an institution, but a way of life,” Grecco said. “The archdiocese is deeply grateful to the Sisters of St. Joseph.”

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