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Women's shelter, Pittsburgh Mercy share similar goals

Natasha Lindstrom
| Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, 11:15 p.m.

Five months after becoming part of the Pittsburgh Mercy health system, Bethlehem Haven women's shelter in Uptown is on an upswing, fueled by expanded resources, fresh funding sources and the strategic guidance of its new parent organization.

“It really is exciting, this new era,” said Jim Giammarco, 52, Bethlehem Haven board member and chief financial officer of Community Care Behavioral Health Organization. “This is going to put us on much more solid footing.”

Chief Operating Officer Ray Wolfe of Pittsburgh Mercy — a 1,700-employee regional health care system with a $94 million annual budget — said the April decision to acquire the relatively tiny Bethlehem Haven, with a $3 million annual budget, would strengthen both organizations as they have similar missions.

He and recently installed Bethlehem Haven CEO Deborah Linhart emphasized the acquisition was more of a strategic and programmatic move than a financial one.

“With Bethlehem Haven, we're hoping to build a truly excellent, world-class environment for women,” said Wolfe, noting Pittsburgh Mercy may be interested in additional acquisitions of nonprofits with similar goals.

Bethlehem Haven — which has faced cutbacks and funding uncertainty in recent years amid shifts in government priorities, is realizing some welcomed benefits, such as overhead costs dropping from 13 percent to 4.5 percent of spending; increased credit lines should it need them; and the ability to draw from Pittsburgh Mercy's pool of workers in emergency situations, which lowers employee burnout.

The collaboration builds on Pittsburgh Mercy's goal of focusing on “people-centered” and “trauma-informed” care and to improve continuity for some of the most vulnerable women in the region, said Terry Carik, experience of care director at Pittsburgh Mercy, part of Trinity Health.

It's not the first time Bethlehem Haven has joined forces with another group: In the late 1990s, it acquired a second building in Uptown by teaming up with fellow nonprofit shelter, Miriam's Place.

Bethlehem Haven began 35 years ago as an emergency shelter operating out of the basement of Smithfield United Church of Christ, Downtown. Today, the nonprofit houses about 100 women on any given night, for about 1,500 people served annually between its emergency shelter and support services.

Among its biggest challenges, according to Linhart: confronting a rapid increase in homeless women older than 50 and working on ways to increase the area's affordable housing supply.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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