New health care partnership seeks to help the underserved in Maricopa County

Mar 04, 2021 By Shannon Sherman

Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust is investing $10 million in a collaboration between Creighton University and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) in Phoenix.

Featured Testimonial About Creighton University

Physician examines a patient at St. Vincent

This forward-thinking approach to caring for the underserved and formation of compassionate health professionals is a perfect illustration of Creighton’s mission.

Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, President
The Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD Creighton University president 

Three organizations are joining forces to transform health care for underserved populations in Maricopa County.

Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust is investing $10 million in a collaboration between Creighton University and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) in Phoenix that will provide improved access and quality of care to those most in need while growing skilled medical professionals for Arizona. The partnership is designed to reduce growing health disparities that disproportionately affect low-income populations and people of color. *

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the impact of failing to prepare for and respond to broad, unaddressed health inequities in our community,” said Mary Jane Rynd, President & CEO of Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. “The need is urgent, and our response cannot wait. Now is the time for higher education, social services and philanthropy to join and use our collective capacity to create a healthier, more resilient future.” 

The partnership will more deeply integrate SVdP’s Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic into the Creighton Health Sciences – Phoenix Campus curriculum. Creighton faculty and third- and fourth-year medical students have volunteered monthly at the clinic for over a decade, and the clinic will now serve as the primary teaching facility for first- and second-year medical students as well. 

St. Vincent de Paul sign

Medical, nursing, physician assistant, pharmacy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy faculty and students will work together to serve patients at a weekly interprofessional clinic, using a team-based approach shown to improve patient outcomes and reduce health care costs.

“As Creighton health sciences students consistently rotate through the clinic, it is not only clinical education that is taking place, but an experience at the core of Jesuit education — cura personalis, or care for the whole person, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” said Dr. Randy Richardson, regional dean, Creighton University School of Medicine, Phoenix Campus.

The clinic’s infusion of health sciences students and physician faculty will expand access to preventative, acute and specialty care. It will also allow students to spend more time with physicians while learning to care for underserved patient populations, said Dr. John Anwar, Medical Director, SVdP Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic and Assistant Professor, Creighton University School of Medicine. 

“Our students will receive an education that is centered at the new frontier of care in medicine — at the place with the greatest need and the greatest opportunity for transformational change,” Anwar said. “They will understand, from the very beginning of their education experience, the inequities in the health care system and their role as professionals to serve and care for the most vulnerable.” 

Uninsured patients, rather than receiving specialty and preventative care, often turn to emergency rooms for complications arising from unmanaged chronic disease. This not only results in poorer outcomes for patients long-term, it increases the cost of care that hospitals must absorb in treating conditions that might have been prevented.

With greater resources in place, Creighton and SVdP leaders will work with health systems in the Greater Phoenix area to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of uninsured patient referrals between hospitals and the Arizona Safety Net System — a collaboration of more than 40 clinics providing services to those most in need.

SVdP and Creighton’s strengths are well-suited to strengthen the referral system and effect sustainable change. The former, an international nonprofit dedicated to serving those most in need, is a leading provider in the Arizona Safety Net System. Creighton, meanwhile, has established strong clinical partnerships with Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and Valleywise Health, among others. 

To lead this effort, the Creighton School of Medicine will hire and employ the Virginia G. Piper Chair in Medicine and Chief Medical Officer embedded at SVdP’s Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic. In addition to overseeing the clinic, the CMO will facilitate communication and collaboration between Arizona Safety Net clinics and hospital systems.
    
“The St. Vincent de Paul and Creighton partnership amplifies our ability to both provide critical health care to people who do not have access and to find solutions to greater health equity in our community,” SVdP Associate CEO Shannon Clancy said. “People currently not receiving the services they desperately need will get the high-quality care they deserve, raising the bar for greater access to health care in Maricopa County.” 

As the organizations navigate a new care model, they will continue to evaluate their strategies, developing new practices focused on reducing inequities in the health care system. A new Creighton School of Medicine role, the Virginia G. Piper Fellowship in Health Disparities, will conduct research and inform the partnership’s efforts to drive systemic change and patient-focused improvements in care.

“This forward-thinking approach to caring for the underserved and formation of compassionate health professionals is a perfect illustration of Creighton’s mission,” said University President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD. 

“The stability, dignity and hope we can offer patients at SVdP’s Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic will touch countless lives, including physicians and health professions faculty and their students. The experience will affirm firsthand that medicine is a sacred calling, and they have been selected to help God’s people in their moments of greatest need,” Hendrickson added. 

Physician examines a patient at St. Vincent

SVdP’s Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic has provided acute, specialty and preventative healthcare services to meet the needs of the underserved and uninsured for over 25 years. In 2018, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust gave a lead grant to help expand the clinic, more than doubling capacity with additional patient exam rooms, an intake area, laboratory, ophthalmology room, pharmacy, and procedure room.

St. Vincent de Paul and Creighton, meanwhile, have worked together for more than a decade to operate the monthly student-led clinic at St. Vincent de Paul  with support from School of Medicine faculty, third- and fourth-year medical students and Creighton alumni physician volunteers.

In 2018, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust provided the lead grant for Creighton to build a $100 million health sciences campus in Phoenix. The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust Health Sciences Building, housing Creighton’s health sciences program, will open in September 2021, making Creighton the largest Catholic health professions educator in the nation.

*Coordinated Community Health Needs Assessment for Maricopa County 2017–2020

About Creighton University
Creighton University, based in Omaha, Nebraska, is one of 27 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. It enrolls more than 4,000 undergraduates and more than 4,000 graduate and professional students among nine schools and colleges. No other university its size offers students such a comprehensive academic environment with personal attention from faculty-mentors. Creighton has been top-ranked by U.S. News & World Report for more than 20 years. Visit Creighton.edu for more information. 

About Society of St. Vincent de Paul Phoenix
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international nonprofit organization that feeds, clothes, houses and heals. It is dedicated to serving people in need and providing the community with the opportunity to serve. St. Vincent de Paul has been assisting central and northern Arizona families since 1946. It operates a network of more than 80 neighborhood food pantries, five charity dining rooms, a transitional shelter, a resource center for the homeless, bill assistance and homelessness prevention programming, as well as a charity clinic with medical, dental and wellness care for the uninsured.

About Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust: 
Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust supports organizations that enrich health, well-being, and opportunity for the people of Maricopa County, Arizona. Since it began awarding grants in 2000, Piper Trust has invested nearly $511 million in local nonprofits and programs. Piper Trust grantmaking areas are healthcare and medical research, children, older adults, arts and culture, education, and religious organizations. For more information: visit pipertrust.org | @PiperTrustFacebook.