Catholic identity key in St. Louis University Hospital partnership with SSM Health

Lisa Johnston | @aeternusphoto

When St. Louis University sold its teaching hospital to Tenet Healthcare Corp. in 1998, the contract required that the facility maintain its Catholic identity.

Under a new partnership announced this week between SSM Health and St. Louis University, the hospital's Catholic identity will continue — but this time, it'll be out of an appreciation for being part of a Catholic culture, as opposed to a contractual obligation.

As part of a long-term agreement, SSM Health will acquire the 365-bed hospital, which then will become part of SSM Health St. Louis. The university is buying SLU Hospital back from Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare and will give it to SSM Health St. Louis, in exchange for a minority membership interest — which includes a financial interest and governance rights. The transaction between SSM Health and SLU is expected to be finalized by late summer, subject to regulatory approvals.

"When it became clear we were going to reacquire the hospital ... we were looking for an organization that is known for sharing our values and commitment to best serving the patient as a whole person, attending not only to their physical needs, but their spiritual and psychological needs," St. Louis University president Fred P. Pestello said. "At SSM, we know we have a partner that shares our values, and we expect to continue to provide excellent care through a more extensive network."

Under Tenet, compliance with the Catholic ethical and religious directives (ERD) was mandated by the contract, according to William Thompson, president and CEO of SSM Health. But no more.

"With this relationship, the Catholic identity and ERD compliance becomes a part of the culture of the organization," he said. "From that perspective, you will see St. Louis University Hospital truly become more of a Catholic facility than it was in the past."

Thompson noted in its commitment to serving the poor, SSM health accepts Medicaid patients and is an advocate for Medicaid expansion. Other aspects that touch on Catholic identity include pastoral care services, employee benefits and salary that support a living wage, and the health system's Mission Days, in which employees reflect on what it means to be a faith-based organization.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis welcomed the news. In 1998, then-Archbishop Justin Rigali lamented the loss of Catholic identity when the hospital was sold to Tenet. Archbishop Robert Carlson lauded the partnership:

"On behalf of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, I congratulate St. Louis University and SSM Health Care on the return of St. Louis University Hospital to its Catholic roots," he stated. "As embodied in its mission statement, SSM Health Care is committed to 'reveal(ing) the healing presence of God' through their 'exceptional health care services.'

"That pledge, coupled with the promise affirmed by the mission of St. Louis University Hospital, that it 'exists for the glory of God and the health of God's people,' is an assurance to those who seek compassionate, Catholic health care. This new partnership between SSM Health Care and St. Louis University builds upon a centuries-old relationship between the Catholic Church and its care for the St. Louis community."

SSM Health will own and operate the hospital, and SLU Hospital employees will become SSM Health St. Louis employees. Doctors, health care practitioners and staff from St. Louis University's physician practice, SLUCare Physician Group, will continue to be employed by the university and to practice at their current care sites. The SLUCare Physician Group and SSM Health have partnered for decades to provide pediatric care and maternal/fetal medicine services to patients at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and SSM St. Mary's Health Center.

Dr. Elizabeth Abraham, a SLUCare physician who practices at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and an officer with the Catholic Medical Association's St. Louis Guild, called SSM Health Care a "solid health care organization that is invested in the St. Louis area. "This will be very good for Catholic health care in St. Louis and health care in general."

SSM Health provides services at 19 hospitals and more than 60 outpatient care sites in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma an Wisconsin. SSM Health St. Louis includes seven hospitals (St. Louis University Hospital will become the eighth), a medical park, managed care organization, four urgent care sites and SSM Medical Group.

Tenet-owned Des Peres Hospital in west St. Louis County and the MedPost Urgent Care Center in Ellisville will remain in the Tenet system. 

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