LEWISTON – St. Mary’s Health System received the top national award and a $100,000 prize Tuesday for its efforts to improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of its community.

Each year, the Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service is presented to a health care organization that provides innovative programs that significantly improve the health and well-being of its community.

Facilities in Baltimore, Denver and Appleton, Wis., were $10,000 winners as finalists for the award, which is sponsored by the American Hospital Association, The Baxter International Foundation and the Cardinal Health Foundation.

Among other programs, St. Mary’s was recognized for the following innovative community service initiatives, according to the prize committee:

• The Neighborhood Housing Initiative: St. Mary’s led the development of a community housing project that resulted in construction of 12 affordable homes for families who would otherwise not have had access to quality housing. In doing so, the initiative also served as a catalyst for housing investments in downtown Lewiston neighborhoods.

• The B Street Health Center: Since 2003, this full-service medical practice located in the heart of a federally designated enterprise community offers culturally appropriate, affordable behavioral medicine and dental services on a sliding scale to the area’s poor and to its rapidly expanding immigrant community.

• The St. Mary’s Food Pantry: One of the largest emergency food pantries in New England, this food pantry has provided emergency food assistance to local residents for more than 25 years. Operating five days a week, this pantry served more than 17,500 individuals and families in 2007.

• Lots to Gardens: This community- and youth-driven program leverages urban agriculture to teach community members how to grow their own food, provide affordable access to fresh food, live healthier lifestyles and involve youth as leaders. Since its inception in 1999, program participants have built 15 community gardens and green spaces in four diverse Lewiston neighborhoods, growing more than 19,000 pounds of organic produce for low-income community members.

• Take Charge: Since its inception, this community outreach program has provided more than 6,300 individuals with low-cost health screenings and health-care referrals, helping overcome barriers to good health including lack of health insurance, poverty and lack of transportation.

“St. Mary’s Health System embraces the vision of its founders to ‘do what needs to be done,’ whether or not the task is characteristic of a health care system. With a dedication to leveraging financial and human resources to meet community needs in a culturally sensitive manner, St. Mary’s addresses a wide range of issues,” said Susan Manilow, chairwoman of the Foster G. McGaw Prize Committee.

“Whether creating new, affordable housing, establishing a much needed outreach center for health and community services, addressing the health issues of a growing Somali population or meeting community nutritional needs, St. Mary’s provides invaluable social and health care services to its community under outstanding leadership,” she said.

James Cassidy, president and CEO of St. Mary’s, responded saying, “Mission is at the heart of everything St. Mary’s Health System undertakes. We are proud of our efforts in the community – including health screenings, our food pantry, our community gardening program, our housing initiative and our nutrition center. Each of these programs ties back to our mission as a Catholic health system, and support for this mission runs straight through our organization from line staff right up to our board.”

A six-minute video about St. Mary’s community services will be produced and shown during the awards ceremony. Russ Donahue, director of marketing for St. Mary’s, said hospital leaders have yet to decide how the $100,000 prize money will be spent.

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