St. John’s University Breaks Ground on Health Sciences Center
A ceremonial groundbreaking for the construction of a Health Sciences Center at St. John’s University took place on Thursday, May 12, on the Queens, NY, campus, ushering in a new era and a planned state-of-the art facility designed to train future generations of caregivers at a time of tremendous change and opportunity in health care.
Donning red hard hats and brandishing shovels, a variety of dignitaries representing the University leadership, faculty, and students, as well as elected representatives of New York State, and NYC government, enthusiastically turned over soil near the site of the 65-year-old St. Vincent Hall, which is undergoing demolition to be replaced by the 70,000-square-foot center.
Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s University, wielded the same ceremonial shovel that was first used more than a century and a half ago to break ground at the University’s original location in Brooklyn, NY.
Announcing that the health center will carry St. Vincent’s name, Fr. Shanley said, “The building we are going to erect is truly in the spirit of the Vincentian tradition. The fundamental Vincentian question is, ‘What must be done?’ In what practical ways can we help those most in need?”
“The Vincentian Order and its cognate sisters [the Daughters of Charity] have always given their lives to serve those in need,” Fr. Shanley continued. “And health-care professionals these days, particularly during the pandemic we have been through, are on the front lines of helping people in need. This new building will continue that Vincentian practice here at St. John’s. It lies at the very heart of our mission.”
The ceremony coincided with International Nurses Day. Organized annually by the International Council of Nurses, the occasion recognizes the invaluable health-care contributions that nurses make to societies worldwide.
The groundbreaking underscored another milestone for St. John’s—the introduction of its recently approved Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN) program, which will be permanently housed within the Health Sciences Center. Applications for admission are now being accepted and preparations are underway for the first cohort of students to begin classes in August.
“Our new nursing program is at the heart of our new Health Sciences Center,” said Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University Distinguished Professor, and Provost Endowed Chair, during remarks he made before the gathering of supporters and well-wishers. “In fact, nurses are at the heart of health care. They make up the backbone of the US health-care system. Nurses are in many ways our heroes, and we saw this firsthand during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
He added, “Yet, it is projected that 1.1 million nurses are needed to replace retiring nurses by the end of 2022 in the US,” Dr. Møller said. “Globally, this number is close to 13 million. These are sobering facts.”
Establishing a nursing program is one step in a major, long-term investment in the health sciences at St. John’s, which through its College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, is the largest provider of health-care personnel in Queens County and one of the major health-care educators in the New York City region. The Health Sciences Center will support and house existing and forthcoming health sciences programs in one facility. The new academic building will include active learning classrooms, laboratories, simulation facilities, office space, collaborative spaces, an outdoor terrace, and roof-mounted solar panels that will encompass a total of 67,000 square feet.
“St. John’s innovative Health Sciences Center will serve as a cornerstone to our University’s already well-established ethos of cooperative professionalism in the health-care sector,” said Nishanth A. Viswanath, a Pharm.D. candidate who is set to graduate later this month, during remarks he shared with the audience.
The center’s design will promote interprofessional education among existing academic programs and will enable students to learn together and work as a team, similar to the real-world situation found in any clinical setting. In addition, the center’s state-of-the-art simulation facilities will allow students to learn in a safe, realistic, clinical environment before they begin clinical rotation assignments at off-campus sites. Flexible room layouts will accommodate a multitude of teaching and learning styles. The facility is estimated to cost approximately $106 million and is scheduled to open in Fall of 2024.
The construction of the new facility is funded by a mix of private and public funds including more than $20 million to date in philanthropic support. The Health Sciences Center is partially funded by a $1.25 million federal appropriation from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration secured by Representative Gregory W. Meeks in the US House of Representatives and Senator Charles E. Schumer in the US Senate. In addition, St. John’s secured a $5 million New York State Higher Education Capital Matching Grant and a $700,000 Empire State Development grant from Round XI of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the need for adequate nurse staffing, which is crucial to ensure quality health-care access for all New Yorkers,” shared Hope Knight, President, Chief Executive Officer, and Commissioner of Empire State Development, who attended the ceremony. “New York State’s investment in St. John’s University’s state-of-the-art Health Science Center reflects our strategic focus on workforce development and highlights New York’s commitment to strengthening our health-care system. The new center will create 21st-century jobs by creating a pipeline of nursing staff in the region that will help fulfill a crucial need across the state.”
Nursing education is not new to St. John’s. In 1937, a Department of Nursing was formed at the University and the department became a separate School of Nursing Education in 1942, helping to train nurses during World War II before being discontinued.
In attendance, the Very Rev. Stephen M. Grozio, C.M., Provincial Vice Chair of the St. John’s University Board of Trustees and Provincial Superior of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission.