PHOENIX — Creighton University President Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., remembers the phone call in 2005 with Linda S. Hunt.
The CEO of Dignity Health shared her concerns at the time that Phoenix, “one of the fastest-growing and most innovative cities in the country, was lagging in the number of health care workers available to care for its citizens.”
Sixteen years later, the Omaha, Nebraska-based Jesuit university — the largest Catholic health educator in the United States — has opened a brand-new $100 million Health Sciences building here that will eventually send hundreds of new professionals into a work force whose already growing need has been heightened by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Wow. Here we are. What an exciting day this is for so many of us,” Fr. Hendrickson beamed.
“This is a transformational moment not only for Creighton University but for all who have poured serious thought and effort and time and resources — everything that’s inspired the vision into such a bold reality,” he told an audience of more than 300 supporters, educators, staff and donors at the ribbon-cutting for the new 5-story structure on Central Avenue about 2.5 miles north of the main downtown area Thursday, Sept. 9.
Among those on hand were Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Arizona Gov. Doug A. Ducey, Phoenix Mayor Kate S. Gallego, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust President and CEO Mary Jane Rynd, Phoenix Presidential Health Sciences Advisory Board Chair Sharon Harper and Doris S. Norton of the Norton Family Living Trust.
Regional School of Medicine Chaplain Fr. Kevin Dilworth, S.J., asked God to bless the new facility, offering thanks and prayers for the young men and women who will learn there, as well as the patients they will treat as part of that education.
“May we always see your face in each and every person we encounter. And may your presence always fill this building with your love and your grace,” he prayed.
Students seeking quiet reflection will find a 30-seat chapel with plenty of glass and light on the second floor. Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares blessed the St. Ignatius Chapel Sept. 7, days before the ribbon-cutting.
The site’s nearly 196,000 square feet include 50 simulation rooms, eight laboratories, a trauma-simulation room replicating a modern surgical environment, 16 simulated exam rooms and numerous classrooms, the largest of which contains wide-projection screens and an audio-visual system allowing lectures from other sites, including the Omaha campus, to be streamed in.
“Health care may be science-based, but it’s faith that guides many patients, families and people in need through their toughest challenges.”
Fr. Hendrickson called it “breathtaking” and “beautiful.”
By the time its first four-year class graduates in 2025, the campus will be teaching an estimated 900 students, according to vice provost for university Health Sciences and College of Nursing Dean Catherine M. Todero, PhD, RN, FANN. The disciplines include physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, physical therapists and occupational therapists.
During his remarks, Fr. Hendrickson announced a new effort to make the area’s underserved population a part of that new work force.
Dignity Health is now a new lead donor to the campus, investing funds to support full-tuition scholarships over the next decade to nearly 100 students of color.
“Not only will this gift further our broad mission of health-sciences education, but it will help ensure the health-care work force we are preparing reflects the diversity of the communities that we will serve,” he said, crediting Hunt’s leadership in the announcement.
Other partnerships have fueled Creighton’s involvement in Phoenix, starting with its initial influx of students in 2007. In 2009, the university expanded its relationship with St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center by having third- and fourth-year medical students complete rotations at the hospital and medical center.
Earlier this year, the school became part of a collaboration with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, as well as ValleyWise Health, to funnel underserved populations relying on hospital emergency rooms to the SVdP clinic, where those individuals can see a primary care physician and receive pharmacy as well as other basic services.
Creighton is also part of a relationship with CommonSpirit Health, the largest Catholic health care system in the United States. CommonSpirit delivers services across 137 hospitals and more than 1,000 care centers serving 21 states. CommonSpirit was created by the alignment of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health as a single ministry in early 2019.
The partnerships, faith-based principles and desperately needed work force boost all drew praise from the event’s two top elected officials.
“Health care may be science-based, but it’s faith that guides many patients, families and people in need through their toughest challenges. I am grateful Creighton is continuing that proud, Christian medical tradition and showing the world science and faith are not at odds but go hand-in-hand,” said Gov. Ducey, himself and his three sons all products of Jesuit high schools.
“We’re so proud to have you in Arizona and especially right here in Phoenix,” he added. “This past year, we have really seen how important it is to have an advanced health-care infrastructure and a talent pool of health-care workers across all specialties. A new campus right here will be critical in that effort of developing our future health care work force.”
Mayor Gallego commended the school and its contractors for bringing the project to completion on time and under budget, adding facilities like this would be a key to Phoenix’s future.
“If we want to have that world-class city, we need great health care, and it needs to have an eye for equity. Creighton brings those values to our community,” she said.
“I’m very grateful to have Creighton here and to have so many students who really care about serving their community and who were drawn to Creighton because of the values represented by this type of education.
“We never thought the pandemic and so many other challenges would ask so much of our health care heroes.
“Today is good news. Help is coming.”