IRVINE (CNS)  — Two nonprofit Catholic health care systems have announced that they have merged and immediately vowed the new entity would be “a catalyst for improving mental health care in the United States” through a newly created institute funded by a $100 million investment.

The merger brings together St. Joseph Health System of Irvine and Providence Health & Services of Renton, Washington, to create Providence St. Joseph Health, “a nonprofit health and social services system that will serve as the parent organization for more than 100,000 caregivers (employees) across seven states,” a joint statement said.

While details were not released details about about its finances or management structure. But it said it had created an Institute for Mental Health and Wellness, “supported by an initial $100 million investment that will be used to identify and advance innovative solutions in mental health.” No details about the institute’s structure were immediately released.

“A cornerstone of our missions is addressing significant social, community and health needs of our most vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Rod Hochman, Providence St. Joseph Health president & CEO.

“One of the most challenging health issues facing our communities today is access to effective mental health services. Together, we will convene diverse partners and will be a catalyst for change for the many who struggle with mental health stigmatization, diagnosis and treatment,” he said.

Added St. Joseph Health interim CEO Annette Walker: “Today, we bring together two organizations with shared values, aligned missions and like-minded founders — the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange and the Sisters of Providence.

Our heritages inspire us to deliver on a new promise to make communities healthier through best practices, expanded access, and greater affordability and services for those who need them most.”

The joint statement said an expert advisory panel will be convened in the coming months to create a blueprint for improving mental health care in U.S. communities. Maureen Bisognano, recently retired president and CEO of the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement of Cambridge, Massachusetts, will serve as the chair of the panel, working alongside Hochman.

“Improving mental health care takes leadership on all levels, as well as a major commitment of resources,” said Bisognano. “I am looking forward to leading a national conversation around mental health and am excited about what we can achieve together.”

As a part of their efforts, Providence St. Joseph Health and the advisory panel will collaborate with national and local organizations with expertise and long histories of addressing mental health.

The statement said the health system’s mental health work would be overseen by the Foundation for Mental Health and Wellness, which will benefit from “an initial investment of $100 million.

“The fund will support research and startup operations for mental health awareness, diagnosis and treatment. Fund distributions will be made through a formalized grant process and be available internally to Providence St. Joseph Health entities as well as other organizations within the communities it serves. Members of the expert advisory panel will provide strategic guidance on the distribution of funds.”

The Institute for Mental Health and Wellness will begin operating immediately, the statement said.

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