(This is the first story in reporter Brian Hauswirth’s two-part series on the proposed hospital sale)

Supporters and opponents of the proposed sale of St. Mary’s Hospitals in Jefferson City and Mexico to MU Health Care have different views on the impact of the sale would have on employees.

St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City is located near Highway 179 (2018 photo courtesy of SSM Health)

St. Louis-based SSM Health and MU Health Care announced in August that they have signed a letter of intent to transfer ownership of both hospitals to Columbia-based MU Health Care.

The proposal needs regulatory approval, and could also go before the Missouri Legislature for review in 2019.

MU Health Care chief executive officer Jonathan Curtright tells Missourinet local jobs, good pay and benefits are a top priority for him.

“We have 700 open positions right now, if you combine all this into one,” Curtright says. “We want to ensure that people have a good landing spot, whether it’s in Jeff City, Columbia or in Mexico.”

A group called “A Coalition for Choice” wants the Trump Administration to block the proposed sale. The group is warning about “massive job cuts” in Jefferson City, if the sale is goes through.

More than 250 people packed an open forum last Monday night at the Missouri Special Olympics Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City, to hear details of the proposed sale of the hospitals.

Opponents of the sale worry about a future monopoly in Jefferson City, with MU Health Care operating both St. Mary’s and Capital Region Medical Center. Mr. Curtright tells Missourinet there would still be major competition in Jefferson City and Columbia.

“And I gave (at the open forum) multiple examples of that, where’s there’s going to be two cancer centers. There’s going to be multiple imaging centers where people can go to radiology. There’s going to be multiple places where people can have outpatient surgery,” says Curtright.

Supporters of the sale note that private practice physicians and physician groups will continue to provide primary care and specialty services. Curtright also says the sale would create new opportunities to train more doctors and nurses to care for patients across the state.

“A Coalition for Choice” sees the issue differently. Organization spokeswoman Connie Farrow says Jefferson City residents have too much heart and sweat equity in St. Mary’s. She says selling to MU Health must be off the table.

“We’re very concerned because MU Health has stated that their goal is to have one million patients in this region,” Farrow says. “When you think about that, that’s a tremendous amount of patients.”

Farrow says the proposed sale would have to go before the Missouri Legislature.

Missourinet asked MU Health officials if the proposed sale would have to go before Missouri lawmakers. A spokeswoman says it’s possible that, to provide regulatory certainty, there may be a request for enabling legislation that would provide specific statutory authority for the transaction. She notes the scope of any such request would depend on many different factors.

MU Health Care emphasizes they are not requesting any state funds.

As for St. Louis-based SSM Health Care, chief operations officer Steve Smoot told the audience last week that the current structure for St. Mary’s in Jefferson City is unsustainable.

Backers of the proposed sale of St. Mary’s Hospitals in Jefferson City and Mexico to MU Health say the integration of services will eliminate duplication and will provide new options for health care in the region.

Mr. Curtright says the current capacity for hospital services in the Capital City is too much.

“On average, between Capital Region Medical Center and St. Mary’s here in Jeff City, there’s a total average daily census, total number of people, it’s 135,” says Curtright.

The new $200 million St. Mary’s site that SSM Health opened in 2014 has 179 beds.

“A Coalition for Choice” wants SSM Health to rebid the sale to a different entity. The group says towns like Jefferson City, Joplin and Cape Girardeau have sustained two hospitals for decades.

Click here to listen to the full interview between Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth and MU Health Care chief executive officer Jonathan Curtright, which was recorded on December 17, 2018 in Jefferson City:

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