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The Worcester Region is Historically Healthy

Worcester’s two primary health care facilities have been serving the region since the 1800s.

By Cary Estes on September 22, 2021

Exterior shot of the UMass Worcester Medical School Hospital building

In 1874, the Washburn Free Dispensary opened in downtown Worcester, later changing its name to Memorial Hospital. Then in 1893, the 12-bed Saint Vincent Hospital opened on Vernon Hill overlooking the city.

Though they have grown, moved and merged with others over the ensuing century-plus, both health care facilities still exist today, rooted in the city of Worcester. Memorial Hospital is now UMass Memorial Medical Center, operating as a clinical partner of UMass Medical School, while Saint Vincent has endured and expanded to more than 300 beds.

“A lot of our physicians, nurses and staff members have been here for the majority of their careers,” says Saint Vincent cardiologist Dr. Michelle Hadley. “This is our home, which is reflected in the amount of work we give to the community, because the people who work at this hospital are the community.”

The feeling is similar at UMass Memorial, which has a total of 740 beds across its two hospital campuses along with an academic component, making it the only academic medical center in Massachusetts not located in Boston.

“To have an academic medical center in a city of Worcester’s size is relatively unusual,” says James Leary, vice president of community and government relations at UMass Memorial Health. “It enables us to be very connected to the community, which is a great benefit.”

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Saint Vincent Hospital

Saint Vincent offers specialty care in orthopedics, maternity services, physical therapy and bariatric (weight loss) surgery. It was the first hospital in Central Massachusetts to offer robotically assisted surgical procedures and minimally invasive, computer-assisted joint replacements. It also, literally, is on the cutting edge of cyber-knife radiosurgery, a highly targeted radiation therapy for cancer treatment.

But Saint Vincent is perhaps best known for its cardiac rehabilitation program, which takes a comprehensive approach to solving heart-health issues. These include nutritional classes, supervised exercise regimens, and social and emotional support.

“Our cardiac rehab program is one of the tops in New England and is held in high regard nationally because of the various aspects we take into each individual who has had a cardiac event,” Hadley says. “It really touches base on each of the factors that helps get individuals back into their community as active social members.”

The hospital also uses a multidisciplinary team method to solve many health issues, combining cardiology with obstetrics for women enduring a high-risk pregnancy and oncology for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.

“This is our home, which is reflected in the amount of work we give to the community because the people who work at this hospital are the community.”

Dr. Michelle Hadley, Saint Vincent Hospital

“Sometimes those treatments can damage a patient’s heart structure,” Hadley says. “We now have technology to scan the heart muscle to see if damage is happening before a patient can feel it. We’re giving people in Worcester the opportunity to have this type of specialized care in their home city and not have to go to Boston.”

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UMass Memorial Medical Center

When it comes to specialized care, UMass Memorial has elevated several of its services to create Centers of Excellence, providing comprehensive treatments for diabetes, heart and vascular, cancer and musculoskeletal.

The medical center utilizes some of the region’s most sophisticated technology for aortic valve surgery, colon cancer surgery, heart bypass surgery and the treatment of COPD and heart failure. It also has the only designated Level I Trauma Center for adults and children in Central Massachusetts and the region’s only Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“We serve a broad swath of Central New England with those specialty areas, offering the highest levels of complex care,” Leary says.

UMass Memorial also stays connected to the community and local nonprofit organizations through a variety of programs, including those focused on injury prevention, food and fitness, parenting and an overall healthy lifestyle.

That network of local contacts proved invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic, as UMass Memorial helped distribute more than 90,000 masks, administer more than 60,000 COVID tests and eventually offer approximately 100,000 vaccines.

“We were able to do that because of the connections we already had with the community at large and a lot of the nonprofits,” Leary says. “We partner with the city and a lot of community organizations to be responsive to the needs of the people in this region. To care for them and help them care for themselves.”

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