The former St. Joseph's Hospital in downtown St. Paul is officially reopening Thursday as a wellness center, with the goal of being a one-stop shop of food, medical, aging and other services for people who face economic and demographic barriers to good health.

The new Fairview Community Health and Wellness Hub is launching with a half-dozen medical and social services providers — and space to add more services that community leaders believe will help.

While the gradual closure of the state's oldest hospital has been controversial, Fairview chief executive James Hereford said the end result is a novel way to improve community health that replaces redundant east metro medical services.

"There are two other inpatient settings within literally blocks that were better suited, newer, more capable," he said. "What the community didn't have was this kind of offering."

The first version of the center will be a mix of existing and new services — including an expanded outpatient substance abuse and mental health clinic, and a federally qualified health center that provides acute medical care regardless of patients' ability to pay.

Fairview's Ebenezer elder-care system has opened a day activity center on site for seniors living at home, and Second Harvest Heartland and other partners are centralizing food collection and distribution efforts there.

The strategy is to bring together a wide range of health services that people would otherwise need to access individually, said Diane Tran, Fairview's executive director of community health equity and engagement.

For instance, a senior in one trip could engage in day activities and also get a checkup at the local clinic. A low-income patient could receive a "food prescription" to improve health through better diet, then stock up on groceries.

The goal is to track changes in patients' lives and help them overcome social determinants, such as a lack of affordable housing or fresh foods, that can damage their health, Tran said.

"Having coordinated care as well as access to preventive upstream supports is going to increase well-being and outcomes, medical and otherwise," she said.

The transition has presented some challenges in St. Paul, as St. Joseph's scaled back emergency and inpatient services over the past two years. It stopped providing inpatient mental health July 1 and only a long-term acute care inpatient ward remains, though that will be expanded from 15 to 24 beds.

Both Allina's nearby United Hospital and HealthPartners' Regions Hospital reported upticks in patient demand as St. Joseph's ratcheted down. Regions completed a 20-bed expansion of its mental health unit in December and received legislative approval this year to expand its licensed capacity by 45 beds.

Fairview is planning to convert the shuttered Bethesda Hospital north of the State Capitol into a standalone mental health hospital, but first needs a positive public interest review of the proposal by the Minnesota Department of Health. A finding is expected next month.

Hereford said Fairview is acting not only as a landlord for social service and health care organizations moving into the old St. Joseph's Hospital, but also as a curator to make sure the right mix of services emerges at the hub to collectively improve the health of the community.

"It's a lot of the right people," he said, "who have never had the opportunity to work side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with the intent of improving the heath of the community, in a way that can best coordinate their efforts."