CONCORD — The saying “the first wealth is health” is attributed to American essayist and local resident Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Fittingly, his nephew Charles Emerson donated the 40 acres on which Emerson Hospital was founded in 1911.
After more than a century of growth and service, the hospital’s leadership — led by President and CEO Christine Schuster — decided it was time to reimagine both the institution’s name and logo in the community.
“We held our strategic planning retreat in March 2020, right before COVID hit, where we looked at our mission, our vision and our values,” Schuster said. “And we decided we were more than a hospital. “Emerson Hospital shows that our focus is only on disease when our focus is on health and wellness.”
First, Schuster and her team prepared the hospital operationally to handle the daily health care needs brought on by the pandemic. They then began work on other strategic initiatives, such as expanding their urgent care facilities in Westford, opening an ambulatory gastrointestinal surgery center in Concord, and moving their physicians and staff to a digital services platform.
Finally, they redesigned and released their new name and logo, which became Emerson Health.
“The idea is that we can meet you wherever you are in your health journey,” Shuster explained. “Through our locations and services, we can provide 85 percent of the care you’ll need throughout your life at Emerson Health.”
With about 1,500 employees, Emerson Health is a small player in the competitive health care landscape — Brigham, Mass. General, for example, employs more than 25,000 people — but Schuster said it cares more about the quality of services than costs.
“Just yesterday, Becker’s Review came out with the 148 hospitals in the country that have high-quality, low-cost hospitals, and Emerson was one of them,” Schuster said Thursday. “I’m really proud of it. We are doing what the State Health Policy Commission, which monitors health spending in the Commonwealth, has asked us to do. It’s good for the patient, and we’re a leader in that.”
Schuster said that COVID-19 has created additional mental health needs that exceed existing resources in many communities.
“Every day, 600 people are waiting for a mental health bed,” she said. “The hospitals closest to us – Lowell General, Lahey and Marlboro – do not have inpatient psychiatric units. In fact, 68% of Emerson Health’s patients are not patients from our service area. We are stepping up and taking care of the mental health needs of the surrounding communities.”
As of July 1, Schuster has led Emerson Health for 18 years. She’s a nurse by training, but finds that even in the principal’s apartment, things are never dull. In addition to the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, which include shortages of IV contrast, which is used in high-tech imaging tests, and concerns about a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall, she also addressed current events such as the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that constitutionally protected a woman’s right to a legal abortion.
“I have two daughters, so I worry about them having less rights than I do,” Schuster said. “The way I and my board look at it, it’s a health care issue. We respect the decisions women make with their health care providers and will continue to provide reproductive care, including abortion.
Governor Charlie Baker signed an executive order on June 24 protecting access to reproductive health services in the state.
Mass General Brigham, a 24-year-old affiliate of Emerson Health, released a message to its patients that “the Supreme Court decision does not change the right to abortion for patients receiving care in Massachusetts. We will continue to provide high quality care to all patients who come to us for care.”
Although headquartered in Concord, Emerson Health has grown to serve more than 300,000 people in 25 communities, including Lowell, Westford and Chelmsford, and will continue its mission of “whole community care,” including increased access to health care in underserved areas, Schuster said.
The Sudbury resident says there’s a place for community hospitals like Emerson Health that aren’t a research intuition or teaching facility like many of the larger, academic-style health care institutions.
“Here at Emerson, you see your doctor, not a resident or a fellow,” Schuster noted. “There is a real difference in the cost of our care compared to larger institutions. Our main focus is taking care of our community.”
On June 24, Schuster unveiled the new name and logo at a celebration attended by staff. The event included a photo booth, branded souvenirs and food. The green in the new name and logo signifies a new beginning, Schuster says.
“This is a chance for us to reintroduce ourselves and the services we provide to the community,” Schuster said.
“I would put my quality up against Mass General and Brigham any day of the week,” she said proudly. “We’re here for you wherever you are in your health journey.”