Advocacy groups in Jefferson City, Mexico split on MU Health/SSM deal

8 months 5 days 7 hours ago Thursday, February 14 2019 Feb 14, 2019 Thursday, February 14, 2019 7:43:00 PM CST February 14, 2019 in News
By: Jacob Cavaiani, KOMU 8 Reporter

JEFFERSON CITY - The head of a physicians group says the sale of St. Mary's Hospital to MU Health Care should be a no-go, because large health care empires increase prices and limit choice.

Jeffrey Patrick, the president of the Jefferson City Medical Group, supports A Coalition for Choice, a group that opposes the sale of the hospital and SSM Health's other Jefferson City properties on the grounds that it would create a monopoly and likely decrease the quality of patient's care. 

"The JCMG physicians are 100 percent opposed to any, any, legislation or any creation of an MU Health empire," Patrick said. "It's all of private practice. It's all of independent practice. I don't know of anyone in Jefferson City - I've talked to numerous private practice physicians in the Columbia area - and we're all uniformly opposed to it."

In August 2018, SSM Health, which is a Catholic not-for-profit health system, said it was in "exclusive discussions" with MU Health Care to transfer ownership of its ministries in mid-Missouri, which include its hospitals in Jefferson City and Mexico.

The coalition isn't the only group in Jefferson City.

In late January, Malinda Hagenhoff, an ultrasound tech at Capital Region Medical Center, created a Facebook page called "We support the sale."

Hagenhoff said she created the page so supporters of the sale could unify their message.

"I think that MU has invested in our local community, and I think that they will keep our community in the best interest instead of an outside place coming in and wanting to streamline things or make things better for their bottom line," she said.

More than 600 people have signed a petition in support of the sale.

The Mexico group Citizens for Healthy Community Hospitals formed in support of the sale. Spokesman Mark Farnen said more than 500 people have signed its petition.

Farnen said the group is not looking for a fight.

"What we're doing is making a very positive statement about the future of health care in this town, and we want it to stay here like it has been for 100 years," he said.

Larry Webber, the owner of three pharmacies in Mexico, said it's not just Mexico, but surrounding counties as well, that are relying on the hospital to stay.

"And there's really nothing else close," he said. "And so we need it, but those outlying areas north and east of us also need it."

Chris Miller, the mayor of Mexico, said the hospital is the town's largest employer and losing it would create a "huge" economic impact.

He said it could be more challenging to attract businesses to Mexico if there were no hospital. 

"The only thing I think everybody needs to know is to support this deal because we need this hospital, and I think the university is a great asset to this town," he said.

In December, MU Health Care heard feedback from the communities at open forums in Jefferson City and Mexico. 

At the Dec. 17 forum in Jefferson City, Jonathan Curtright, MU Health Care's CEO, said the SSM Health hospitals in Mexico and Jefferson City are "underutilized."

"Furthermore, they're losing money on operations, and it is not sustainable in the long run for those facilities," he said. 

Steve Smoot, SSM Health's chief operations officer, told the audience a consultant issued a request for proposals to see if other entities were interested in buying the properties.

"We issued many RFPs. We had lots of inquiries as into that process. And at the end of the day, there really was only one logical and appropriative choice far and above any other choice that we had, and that was MU Health Care," he said. 

Smoot said SSM Health prioritized keeping health care and jobs close to home and adhering to high standards of care, among other things. He called MU Health Care a "phenomenal choice." 

"The further we get into this relationship, the more it felt meant to be, that this is the right thing for the community here in Jefferson City," Smoot said. 

Hallie Gibbs, the general counsel for A Coalition for Choice, said people in Jefferson City would like an option other than MU Health Care.

"They would like the opportunity to work with St. Mary's Hospital to see if there is another alternative, and perhaps St. Mary's can make it work by working with the community," he said. "And if they've made the decision that they can't make it work, then the community would like to work with them to bring in another choice, so that we are not stuck with one hospital system here in Jefferson City."

Capital Region Medical Center, the other hospital in Jefferson City, is an affiliate of MU Health Care.

Smoot said if the deal with MU Health Care does not come together, there is no other organization waiting.