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OPINION: Time to Deliver 

Bon Secours needs to deliver on its promise to East End residents.

click to enlarge Bon Secours East End Richmond Community Hospital

Scott Elmquist

Bon Secours East End Richmond Community Hospital

Bon Secours is on a spending spree in Richmond – but only at its hospitals in white, affluent neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Bon Secours is shirking its long-standing contractual obligations to develop new medical facilities in Richmond’s struggling, urban East End.

Bon Secours signed a contract on July 8, 2013, with the city of Richmond Economic Development Authority in which Bon Secours agreed to build a 25,000-square-foot, $7.5 million medical office building at or near its East End Richmond Community Hospital. The contract also called for Bon Secours to hire 75 new full-time employees at its East End facilities with a payroll of no less than $6.7 million, which equates to an average salary of $89,333 per full-time equivalent worker. In exchange for these promises, Richmond granted Bon Secours a 100-year lease of the very valuable Westhampton School site adjacent to the Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital at an initial annual rent of only $5,000. Eight years later, Bon Secours has built nothing in the East End, despite the small cost of such a facility relative to its other recent area expenditures – and has hired few if any of the promised new East End employees.

During that same eight years, Bon Secours has spent hundreds of millions of dollars expanding and improving its suburban Richmond hospitals. In fact, in just the past two years, Bon Secours has announced a $50 million expansion and a $34 million operating room upgrade at its Memorial Regional Medical Center in Hanover County, a $119 million expansion of its St. Francis Medical Center in Chesterfield County, and a new $30 million, free-standing 24,000-square-foot emergency-room in Chester. And the Westhampton School site leased to Bon Secours has now been developed with hundreds of new apartments and new office facilities.

What’s really going on here? Zip code data from the U.S. Census Bureau tells the story. For the code in which Bon Secours St. Francis is located, the population is 79.2% white and the yearly median family income is $89,851. By contrast, in the Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital ZIP code, the population is only 17.9% white and the median family income is $51,528 – almost $40,000 less than for St. Francis. The numbers are similar for the ZIP codes of Bon Secours’s Hanover facility (91% white, $79,692 median income) and St. Mary’s Hospital (88% white, $68,024 median income). See the American Community Survey at census.gov for that information.

And people in the East End near Richmond Community Hospital live shorter lives. Average life expectancy at birth is 63 to 68 years for people who live in the Richmond Community Hospital area. Average life expectancy at birth is 77 to 79 years for those who live near St. Francis and about the same for those living near Memorial Regional and St. Mary’s. Read the 2016 report from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health: societyhealth.vcu.edu/work/the-projects/mapping-life-expectancy.html.

As these numbers show, Bon Secours is spending money in high-income areas that are largely white. And Bon Secours is not spending money and doesn’t want to spend money at the Bon Secours hospital that is in a less affluent part of town with a small white population and lower life expectancies.

The stated mission of Bon Secours Health is “to extend the compassionate ministry of Jesus by improving the health and well-being of our communities and bring good help to those in need, especially people who are poor, dying and underserved (emphasis added).” Really? If Bon Secours was truly focused on “the poor, dying and underserved” wouldn’t it make sense for Bon Secours to put its efforts and its money in the East End community where poverty is highest and life expectancy is the lowest, rather than in those high-income suburban communities where life expectancies are already 10 to 15 years higher than in the East End?

Bon Secours announced last year that the new emergency room facility it was building in Chester, a project almost the same size as the promised East End office building, would be completed in only two years. If Bon Secours had built the promised East End project in two years, then that project would have been completed in 2015. In the six years from 2015 until today, $40.2 million of new salary and wages would have poured into the East End. That money would have been spent on housing and clothes and food and those expenditures would have created even more new East End jobs and income as a result. But of course, none of that happened. Instead, Bon Secours put its money in Richmond’s richer, whiter hospitals.

Bon Secours, when will you fulfill your charitable purpose to bring help to the poor and underserved and perform your contractual obligations to the City of Richmond and Richmond’s East End? When will you spend the paltry $7.5 million you committed to spend in the East End and hire the promised 75 new employees instead of just pouring money into your suburban locations?

At Bon Secours, the moneychangers in the temple seem to have driven out the “compassionate ministry of Jesus.”

Michael Schewel is a retired lawyer and corporate executive. He served as Virginia’s secretary of Commerce and Trade from 2002 to 2006.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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