St. Vincent Kokomo

St. Vincent Health CEO Jonathan Nalli speaks with interim regional president Margie Johnson in 2015. More than 100 St. Vincent employees are set to be laid off statewide; St. Vincent Kokomo will lay off two employees.

For the first time since 1936, the St. Joseph name will no longer be attached to the official title of the hospital on West Sycamore Street.

St. Vincent Health announced Tuesday morning in an unveiling ceremony that St. Joseph Hospital has changed its name to St. Vincent Kokomo, effective immediately.

“Changing our hospital’s name … more clearly shows our affiliation with St. Vincent and our physicians within St. Vincent Medical Group,” St. Vincent Kokomo interim regional president Margie Johnson said. “However, our mission, heritage and commitment to those we serve in Kokomo and surrounding areas, especially those who are poor and vulnerable, will remain unchanged.”

St. Vincent Health CEO Jonathan Nalli explained the decision to change the name was in recognition of how healthcare has evolved over the last 15 to 20 years. In today’s world, the best way to provide positive outcomes for patients is to utilize resources collectively, and name change helps more clearly reflect the affiliation.

“As we look at how we continue to align our resources as a statewide ministry, it was only natural to continue to align all the elements of St. Vincent Health Indiana,” Nalli said. “More importantly, it allows us to pool from and build off of the contributions of St. Vincent Kokomo into St. Vincent Health more formally.”

Tuesday was a celebration of the past, present and future at the hospital, which stretches back over 100 years in Kokomo.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph from Tipton started Good Samaritan Hospital on the corner of Vaile Avenue and Apperson Way in 1913, where Terrace Tower Apartments stand today. In its infancy it was a small house with just 10 beds, but by 1914, the Sisters raised enough money to build a 60-bed facility.

The Sisters endured strong opposition from the Ku Klux Klan in the early years. The Klan’s financial clout backed the Howard County Hospital, a 50-bed facility on West Sycamore Street, which was built in 1925.

Federal regulations began cracking down on the KKK’s fundraising efforts, and by 1930, Howard County Hospital was shut down and vacated.

A man named Henry Fisk left the Sisters $20,000 after his death around 1934 as a thanks for caring for him years earlier, when Howard County Hospital had asked for him to put money down before being admitted, only for him to refuse and go to Good Samaritan Hospital.

The Sisters wanted to use the money to purchase the old Howard County Hospital property, but knew the transaction would not be widely accepted among the strong Klan presence still in the area.

So, the Sisters gave the money to a man by the name of Francis Kilcline from St. Patrick’s Church, who purchased the property on the Sisters’ behalf.

The property was renamed St. Joseph Memorial Hospital in May of 1936. St. Joseph Hospital and St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis joined to form Saint Vincent Health in 1998.

Moving forward St. Vincent Kokomo will not be completely devoid of the St. Joseph heritage. The hospital also unveiled a new St. Joseph Chapel Tuesday, which is located just off of its newly renovated main entrance on West Sycamore Street.

“There’s a certain sadness about losing the name of the hospital, or changing it, but on the other hand, the name St. Vincent has always been a very positive, strong presence in the state of Indiana, the country and the world,” said Sister Martin McEntee, who was the hospital’s administrator from 1968 to 1996. “It’s a privilege and an honor to be a part of that and be recognized as part of a fine, quality institution. There are some mixed emotions, but the thing that makes me so happy is that I truly believe this will help us continue the mission and spirit that has always been typical of St. Joseph Hospital. We’re continuing the legacy, if not the name.”

Johnson said she has leaned on McEntee heavily for advice and mentorship since taking over as the interim president on Jan. 1. That close bond Johnson has developed with McEntee, and other Sisters of St. Joseph, made the decision to dedicate the chapel in their honor an easy one.

“It’s important because it’s where we come from. It’s our history,” Johnson said. “They opened the hospital. It’s our responsibility to carry forth their mission and legacy that they started 102 years ago. We did it by naming the chapel as a symbol to remember and put on display, so we always have them there. They are the center of who we are.”

Josh Sigler can be reached at 765-454-8580, by email at josh.sigler@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @JSig_KT.

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