January 18, 2022
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St. Joseph sisters to transfer some oversight duties Mass. firm Covenant to continue Felician health institution’s mission

BANGOR – Looking to the future and realizing that the number of Felician sisters responsible for its existence is dwindling nationwide, St. Joseph Healthcare is planning to make a change to ensure that the mission of the institution is carried out in the long term.

“As the number of sisters declines, we want to make sure that St. Joseph’s stays a very vibrant Catholic facility in this community for many years to come,” Sister Mary Norberta Malinowski, president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph Healthcare, said Thursday. St. Joseph Healthcare includes the 112-bed acute care St. Joseph Hospital.

St. Joseph officials were quick to state that patients and employees shouldn’t notice any differences as the hospital changes from being sponsored by the Felician Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels Province, based in Enfield, Conn., to being members of Covenant Health Systems of Lexington, Mass.

“I think, hopefully, that when this occurs it will be very seamless,” Sister Norberta said.

Covenant already is well-known within the state because St. Mary’s Regional Hospital in Lewiston is a member of the organization. Covenant was established in 1983 by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, “the Grey Nuns,” and now directs and supports hospitals, long-term care facilities, assisted-living residences, elderly housing and community-based programs throughout New England and northern Pennsylvania.

St. Joseph officials already are familiar with Covenant because the health care facility has been an affiliate of the Catholic health organization for the past eight years. But now St. Joseph Healthcare is looking to become a full member and shift some administrative responsibilities away from the Felician Sisters.

“It means the sisters are no longer responsible for reporting from this ministry to the Vatican,” St. Joseph Hospital spokeswoman Bethany McKnight said Thursday.

Covenant Health Systems becomes responsible for ensuring that the hospital fulfills its directive and ethical obligations as a Catholic organization and would present any proposal for capital or other projects to the Vatican for approval.

“In the past, the sisters in Enfield had to do that,” McKnight said, noting that it’s more of an oversight change than anything else.

The new sponsor also doesn’t mean that the sisters are going anywhere or that Sister Norberta is retiring, McKnight explained.

“All the sisters here are going to be doing the exact same jobs that they’ve always been doing,” McKnight said.

Five Felician sisters currently work in administrative positions for St. Joseph Healthcare, and one works for a pathology lab across town. Another sister who is retired will soon be moving to the Felician facility in Connecticut.

Before the sponsorship is changed, the hospital must provide the state with an updated strategic plan as part of its Certificate of Need. State approval of a Certificate of Need is necessary to transfer sponsorship, and Sister Norberta said the request is expected to be filed this fall.

“This is something that is many, many, many months away,” McKnight said.

Although it costs more to be a member of Covenant than an affiliate, Sister Norberta said the benefits far outweigh the cost.

“This gives us a lot more access [to assistance] and stabilizes the hospital for the future,” she said. “There are very few independent hospitals left. If you look at the economy, it makes sense to go to full membership.”

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