SSM Health, a Catholic, not-for-profit health system, is in exclusive discussions with University of Missouri Health Care to transfer ownership of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital‒Jefferson City and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital‒Audrain, along with related outpatient, home care, hospice and medical group locations throughout central Missouri.
Formal talks are in the preliminary stage and will take months to complete.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, who is not a party to the negotiations, has been in regular contact with SSM Health and MU Health officials since the announcement was made.
He is adamant that regardless of the sale, Catholic Church will remain true to its commitment to provide quality healthcare.
“I want to encourage those communities affected by this decision to know that the Diocese stands with them in writing the next chapter of Catholic healthcare for our communities,” he stated.
He emphasized that as one of the corporal works of mercy, caring for the sick — including their spiritual care — is a core element of the Church’s Catholic mission.
“We will continue to provide this ministry here in our diocese to the sick, elderly and the poor in other forms, although without the benefit of Catholic hospitals,” he stated.
Toward that end, Bishop McKnight said he intends to collaborate with healthcare professionals and civic officials to ensure that Catholics and others working in healthcare may continue to “provide healing and care in our communities according to the values of our Christian faith.”
SSM Health said its goal for transferring ownership of the hospitals is to make provisions for “the long-term sustainability of high-quality care in these communities.”
“As a mission- and values-driven ministry, SSM Health is committed to ensuring exceptional, accessible and affordable care to all those they serve,” an SSM Health spokesperson stated.
SSM Health President and CEO Laura S. Kaiser, FACHE, said MU Health Care shares SSM Health’s commitment “to providing safe, high-quality and patient-centered care that improves the health of individuals and communities.”
“We also share many common value-based commitments with MU Health Care, including care for the sick, care for the poor and vulnerable, community engagement and ensuring the welfare of our employees and patients,” Ms. Kaiser stated.
She pointed out that the healthcare industry has shifted dramatically over the past several years.
“In order to provide safe, high-quality healthcare services that are convenient and affordable, health systems must integrate all points of service across the entire continuum of care,” she stated. “Given the close proximity of MU Healthcare’s existing services, we believe transition of ownership will best serve Jefferson City, Mexico and surrounding communities in the long-term.”
She said that through this transition, “residents will have greater access to care, a more reliable path for physician recruitment, and a larger network that can provide more advanced levels of care, as needed.”
Prominently displayed at the entrances to both SSM Health St. Mary’s hospitals is the SSM Health mission statement: “Through exceptional healthcare services, we reveal the healing presence of God.”
Members of the congregation now known as the Franciscan Sisters of Mary opened SSM St. Mary’s Hospital‒Jefferson City in 1905.
What is now known as SSM St. Mary’s Hospital‒Audrain in Mexico opened in 1923 as one of the first county hospitals in Missouri.
It later served as a nonprofit community hospital and became part of the SSM Health system in 2013. Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos blessed the hospital and dedicated its chapel on the Vigil of All Saints that year.
Exactly a year later, he blessed and dedicated the current SSM St. Mary’s Hospital‒Jefferson City, a $200 million, 465,000-square-foot complex built on property bought and donated by the St. Mary’s Foundation.
At one time, the 38-county area comprising the Jefferson City diocese also included the former St. Joseph Hospital in Boonville, the former St. Elizabeth Hospital in Hannibal, the former St. Francis Hospital in Marceline, and in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the MKT Hospital and St. Mary’s Infirmary in Sedalia.
Bishop McKnight pointed out that when the Sisters of St. Mary from St. Louis branched out into central Missouri in 1905, “they found Catholics and other people of good will in the area to help them provide healing, compassionate and holistic care for the sick and suffering.”
“We have been blessed with the dedication and witness to their founding vision by the staff of SSM‒St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City and SSM‒St. Mary’s Hospital in Audrain County, in carrying out this important service of our Church,” he said.
“This time of transition offers us the opportunity to thank God for all the good that has been accomplished by the founding sisters and their collaborators over the years, and to ask for His guidance in continuing this work into the future,” he said.
MU Healthcare is comprised of five hospitals in Columbia and more than 50 outpatient clinics. It is also one of only two tier-one safety net health systems in Missouri.
“We share SSM Health’s commitment to improve the health of our communities through exceptional clinical care and service, and look forward to reaching an agreement that enables us to expand our presence in Jefferson City, Mexico, and beyond,” said Jonathan Curtright, CEO of MU Health Care.
He said that as an academic health system, MU Health Care will be able to offer these communities improved access “to our comprehensive integrated healthcare services that include the latest treatments and leading-edge research available.”
“It will also create new opportunities to train more physicians, nurses and other health professionals to care for patients throughout the state — especially those in underserved rural areas,” he added.
Much left to discuss
The terms of this transaction are still being finalized.
SSM Health and MU Health Care have signed letters of intent, which are nonbinding commitments made by both parties that serve as the basis for creating a definitive agreement on the transfer of ownership.
Now, “a diligent process will begin and pending final negotiations, we will jointly decide whether to proceed with final agreements,” an SSM spokesperson stated.