Bishop Shawn W. McKnight said recent developments in the possible sale of the SSM St. Mary Hospitals in Jefferson City and Mexico offer “an opportunity for the community to become re-engaged in the important decision of how health care should be provided in Central Missouri.”
St. Louis-based SSM Health and Columbia-based MU Health Care announced Dec. 20 that after more than a year of diligent, exclusive negotiations, they have mutually agreed to allow their Letter of Intent (LOI) to transfer ownership of SSM Health’s ministries in Jefferson City and Mexico, to expire, effective Jan. 7.
Discussions with MU Health Care will continue as SSM Health broadens the scope of its search for a partner that will help maintain the availability of high-quality care in these communities.
The Catholic, not-for-profit’s presence in mid-Missouri includes SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital–Jefferson City and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital–Audrain, as well as outpatient and medical group locations throughout the region.
“Although we expect to be having conversations with other organizations who we believe can benefit these communities, we continue to view MU Health Care as a valuable potential partner,” said Laura S. Kaiser, FACHE, president and CEO of SSM Health.
“We remain committed to exploring opportunities to work together to improve access to high-quality affordable health care services for the people we serve,” she said.
Bishop McKnight said he wants the communities affected by this decision to know the diocese “stands with them in writing the next chapter of Catholic health care for our communities.”
“We are better when we work together,” he stated.
He insisted that people from the affected communities need to be involved in the ongoing discernment process, and that all parties involved, most especially SSM Health, must hold themselves accountable to the community.
“If the Catholic Church has learned anything in the past 30 years, it is the necessity of transparency and accountability,” he stated.
No set timeline
MU Health Care CEO Jonathan Curtright is convinced that valuable relationships with SSM Health have been built around shared objectives during the past months of negotiation.
“We continue to value the voices of community support for our shared goal to create an outstanding and sustainable health care model that provides quality care and support to patients, employees, physicians and communities across Missouri,” said Mr. Curtright.
“While we are disappointed that our exclusive negotiations with SSM Health are ending, we value the relationships we have built and look forward to continued discussions,” he said.
A statement from SSM Health pointed out that as a mission- and values-driven ministry, it is “committed to ensuring exceptional, accessible and affordable care to all those they serve.”
No timeline has been established for identifying a potential partner or reaching an agreement.
Ms. Kaiser said SSM Health remains focused on finding the right long-term solution while ensuring that there is no disruption in the care patients need and expect from the organization.
“We have deep roots in the region and a sacred calling to ensure that the people of mid-Missouri have access to high-quality, compassionate care for generations to come,” Ms. Kaiser said.
“We move forward thoughtfully and deliberately, with the future of our employees, physicians and the community in mind.”
Need for transparency
Bishop McKnight, who is not a party to the negotiations, has been in regular contact with SSM Health and MU Health officials since their formal negotiations began in August 2018.
He pointed out in a Dec. 20 statement that caring for people who are sick — including their spiritual care — is “a core element of our Catholic mission.”
“As the Church, we will continue to provide ministry here in our diocese to the sick, elderly and the poor,” with or without the benefit of Catholic hospitals, he stated.
He said he is also collaborating with health care professionals and civic officials to ensure that Catholics and others working in health care may continue to provide healing and care in these communities according to the values of their shared Christian faith.
He pointed to the impressive legacy of the religious congregation now known as the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, whose members founded St. Mary’s in Jefferson City in 1905.
“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,” the bishop said.