The beauty of healing

New St. Joseph Hospital features work of local artists

The 140-year tradition of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth providing high quality, affordable health care in Denver will soon open a new hospital bathed with natural light, balconies for fresh air and splashes of color from Colorado artists that complement its state-of-the-art technology.

The new St. Joseph Hospital—set to open Dec. 13 at 1375 E. 19th Ave.—was designed and decorated to aid in the physical and spiritual healing of patients and their families. Hospital leaders, along with the community, have watched the $623 million environmental-friendly building take shape on 13 acres adjacent to the current hospital over nearly four years.

Photos by Daniel Petty/DCR

“It has been an emotional journey because we have watched equipment moving into the new building and now we have the soul of the hospital,” Sister of Charity of Leavenworth Melissa Camardo told the Denver Catholic Register following Archbishop Samuel Aquila’s dedication and blessing of the new hospital Dec. 3.

“Excellence in health care and compassion is at the heart of our tradition and mission,” said Sister Camardo, vice president of mission integration. “We believe in serving the whole person, including spiritually. We do that by offering our faith visibly with the artwork and designing each room to provide comfort and support.”

Healing aids include seating alcoves in the hallways for patients and visitors to rest and visit, and comfortable pullout beds for visitors in each room. The décor incorporates vibrant photographs and paintings from about 80 area artists. The environment depicted in the art reflects God, Sister Camardo said, including an oil painting by John Boak that shares the sisters’ history in Colorado, a large photograph of sunlight and trees by Colorado photographer John Fielder, and 15 smaller oil paintings of outdoor scenes along the Front Range by Gina Blickenstaff.

The art be can be a soothing and calming influence for family members to reflect upon, she said.

Several statues—restored with the assistance of Gerkens Religious Supplies—were relocated from the old hospital to the new including St. Joseph, Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Each patient room has a new crucifix.

“We are an environment where prayer is not only tolerated but welcomed and sought out,” Sister Camardo said.

Archbishop Aquila dedicated the hospital’s new chapel during a special Mass, followed by a blessing of the facility from the main lobby.

“I always tell doctors and nurses to pray for their patients and hold their patients up to the Lord,” Archbishop Aquila said. “Yes, this is a Catholic chapel but it is a place for all people, no matter their faith, to find peace, pray and encounter God.”

He praised the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth who first came to Denver in 1873 to help the sick and vulnerable and opened one of the city’s first hospitals in a cottage at 14th Avenue and Arapahoe Street. They later operated at hospitals at 26th Avenue and Holladay Street, and 18th Avenue and Humboldt, before breaking ground in 1961 for the iconic twin-tower structure at the current location of 1835 Franklin St.

“You are carrying on that mission of Jesus Christ in a healing ministry,” the archbishop told doctors, nurses and hospital officials among about 150 at the blessing. “Be the light of Christ and the hope of Christ.”

Internal medicine nurse Patty Dambrava, who has worked at St. Joseph for nearly 32 years, shed a few tears as she hugged her colleagues after the blessing.

“The presence of a Catholic hospital in this area makes a big difference because many of our patients are underprivileged,” she said.

The only section of the old hospital that will remain open is the newer Russell Pavilion. The rest of the old building eventually will be razed.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”