After more than three years of speculation and public uncertainty, SSM Health announced it is not going to sell St. Mary's Hospital in Jefferson City.
SSM Health, the St. Louis-based owner of St. Mary's Hospital, said Monday it is no longer in discussions to sell the hospital to Quorum Health, the second suitor for the Capital City institution in three years.
SSM Health and MU Health Care announced in August 2018 they were in exclusive negotiations on the sale of the hospital. The announcement drew praise from some and ire from others, who pointed out Capital Region Medical Center already has a relationship with MU Health Care, and selling St. Mary's to the provider would create a health care monopoly in the city.
Many acknowledged Jefferson City is in a unique situation, having two hospitals in a small city. But, they also point out the hospitals serve a broader rural community surrounding Jefferson City.
Others said they were concerned the local hospital would lose its Catholic affiliation, and MU Health Care would not provide conscience protection (protections for people or organizations who object to performing or assisting in the performance of abortions or sterilizations).
Others argued the feature that made Jefferson City unique (having two hospitals) was not a sustainable health care model.
SSM Health sold its home health and hospice ministries to MU Health Care in spring of 2019, but discussions about the sale of the hospital eventually ended.
In November 2020, SSM Health announced it was in negotiations with a new potential buyer for St. Mary's Hospital.
Tennessee-based Quorum Health was just emerging from bankruptcy when the discussions were announced. Leadership of the hospital system, which operates 22 hospitals in 13 states, said it was entering a period of "thoughtful and intentional growth."
St. Mary's Hospital would have represented its first foray into Missouri.
The parties mutually agreed to end discussions, according to a letter SSM Health COO Steve Smoot sent to board members Monday.
"It remains our goal to ensure a sustainable and thriving healthcare ministry for the people of Jefferson City," he wrote. "To that end, we plan to further expand services and invest in the care we provide at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital and Medical Group."
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, of the Diocese of Jefferson City, said in a statement released Tuesday that SSM Health's commitment to invest in the local hospital "is very good news for all of us."
"This announcement means that we will continue to have access to quality health care in a Catholic environment, which enhances quality of life for all in our region," he said.
McKnight added the health care provider's investment in the Jefferson City hospital means the community "must respond with a reciprocal investment in St. Mary's. Our loved ones will be healthier when St. Mary's Hospital is healthy."
The statement, said Helen Osman, diocesan director of communications, is not only faith-based.
"We know the trend across the country is rural communities are struggling with having on-site health care," Osman said.
There were arguments if MU Health Care had bought the hospital, people would have been forced to drive to Columbia for some services, she said. But, people already drive to Columbia for services.
"How do we support our local health care providers?" she asked. "If the community's going to thrive, it needs to have access to quality health care. St. Mary's will be here."
McKnight, Osman said, is calling for people to acknowledge St. Mary's Hospital wants to stay in the community. If people want it to stay, they can't be passive, she said.
SSM Health is grateful for McKnight's support, said Jessica Royston, SSM Health regional manager of marketing and communications. She called on all community members to support the hospital, and think of it first when they need high-quality health care.
SSM intends to further expand services and invest in care it provides, the SSM Health Care letter said.
SSM Health will take steps to both stabilize and invigorate SSM Health services in this region, Smoot wrote.
"We've not yet formed specific plans on how we will continue to invest and develop SSM Health's ministries in Jefferson City, but we look forward to exploring those and sharing more information when we can," Royston said. "Our commitment remains to keep this hospital a vibrant contributor to the health of this community. We remain open to all options that support that commitment."
SSM Health restructured its leadership in Mid-Missouri to coordinate and align its clinical care across the hospital and medical group, Monday's letter said.
Effective Monday, SSM Health appointed George Hayes as interim regional president, taking the role Mike Baumgartner filled.
Hayes came from Fort Collins, Colorado, where he served at Innosphere Ventures. He also is former president of University of Colorado Health. And he served at Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City.
Lenora Adams, who is SSM Health regional vice president for medical affairs, will now temporarily fill a combined role of chief medical officer and medical group president, to coordinate clinical care between the hospital and medical group.
St. Mary's Hospital has operated in Jefferson City for more than 100 years. It opened its current 375,000-square-foot, multi-million-dollar facility at 2505 Mission Drive about seven years ago.
The latest financial data available (from 2019) provided on the Missouri Hospital Association website focusonhospitals.com show that St. Mary's Hospital lost about $3.9 million that year. Financials showed that the hospital lost about $20.9 million in 2016. It improved each year after.