St. Mary's offers to give old hospital to state

Nixon wants $10 million to renovate part of St. Mary's for LU nursing program

Sen. Mike Kehoe, left, and LU President Kevin Rome, right, listen as Gov. Jay Nixon announces a $10 million deal that turns St. Mary’s Health Center over to the sate of Missouri and alllows Lincoln University for expansion of its nursing school program.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, left, and LU President Kevin Rome, right, listen as Gov. Jay Nixon announces a $10 million deal that turns St. Mary’s Health Center over to the sate of Missouri and alllows Lincoln University for expansion of its nursing school program. Photo by Julie Smith.

Lincoln University’s nursing program could be holding classes in the soon-to-be-former St. Mary’s Health Center, if Missouri lawmakers approve Gov. Jay Nixon’s plan to take over the seven-acre complex near downtown Jefferson City.

The nursing program now serves 120 students in Eliff Hall — but has said for several years it can’t do much more with the space it has.

Nixon submits his budget plan for the 2014-15 business year during his State of the State address to lawmakers tonight.

It will include $10 million to renovate a portion of the St. Mary’s complex for LU’s nursing students, and for a culinary arts program school officials have been proposing for several years.

“This investment will enhance the learning opportunities for students in such high-demand fields as nursing,” Nixon told students, faculty and local officials packed into the Memorial Hall meeting room Monday morning. “Here in our state, public education is a value.

“And, in today’s competitive, global market place, it’s also the best economic development tool that there is. That’s why I’m excited to announce (this) new proposal.”

The plan is powered by a non-binding memorandum of understanding between the state’s Office of Administration and SSM Health Care, which owns St. Mary’s.

That five-page document says state government asked SSMHC if it would donate the property on the west side of Missouri Boulevard, to “be used to expand Lincoln University’s curriculum.”

Only OA Commissioner Doug Nelson and William P. Thompson, SSMHC’s top president and CEO based in St. Louis, signed the memorandum, so LU is not an official party to the agreement.

However, LU President Kevin Rome said: “The future impact of this is great. … There is no better laboratory than a hospital setting in which our nursing students can perfect their skills.

“The simulation labs we have on campus are incredible, but we will be able to expand them even further so, for our nursing students, this is a wonderful opportunity.”

The agreement says SSM Health Care’s donation would occur “during the first quarter of 2015,” after the agreement has been finalized and St. Mary’s has moved into its new facilites of Missouri 179, and vacated the current complex.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, noted the project will help improve the region’s “health care environment.”

“I know that (St. Mary’s Health Center President) Brent Van Conia needs folks for his new hospital,” Kehoe told the Memorial Hall audience. “And you see others, with Capital Region’s expansion (in) the medical field.

“You see the lake expanding. You see Columbia expanding. The need for health care professionals is a great return on our investment.”

Nixon already has said his budget plan will add $36 million to the previous funding for Missouri’s 13 four-year higher education campuses, Linn State Technical College and the state’s 20 two-year community college campuses.

Kehoe is a member of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, and said he’ll support Nixon’s plan when lawmakers begin going through the budget.

One expected budget battle is Nixon’s $120 million greater expectation for state income than House and Senate leaders predict. Out of a nearly $25 billion total budget, the governor said, that $120 million difference isn’t very large.

Kehoe told a reporter after Nixon’s announcement: “I’ll work really closely with (Senate leaders) to make sure they understand the economic benefit that this project could deliver. …

“We need to position this on the economic impact this will have as we move forward, and look at it as an investment.”

State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, said he’s been talking with other lawmakers about the idea since first joining the Legislature in January 2011, since LU doesn’t “have the facilities to expand” in the current building.

“This is fantastic for the community,” he said.

State Rep. Jay Barnes said: “You know, Lincoln has shown that it provides a great education in nursing, which is a booming field, at an affordable price.”

But both LU programs proposed for the current hospital complex would fill only about 30 percent of it, Kehoe said — which leaves plenty of room for other state uses.

“I think, as we move forward in the coming weeks and months, defining what those are and making those happen is important — but it’s a little early in the process to do that,” Nixon said.

“We want to make sure that Dr. Rome and his team get a full look at how they can best use that facility for the education of these students, and the connection with this campus and this community.”


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