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

Executives from St. Louis-based SSM Health say the current structure for St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City is unsustainable. They want to sell its hospitals in mid-Missouri’s Jefferson City and Mexico to MU Health Care. SSM Health chief operations officer Steve Smoot tells Missourinet that SSM has been financially-challenged for several years.

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

“Although we have done everything we can and have had some improvement, the level of improvement is not going to help us get where we need to be as we look out into the future,” Smoot says. “So we’re really looking for how do we really sustain health care in Jeff City for the patients that are being served here.”

A group called “A Coalition for Choice” opposes the proposed sale, claiming massive job cuts could occur at the Capital City hospital.

St. Mary’s opened its $200 million 179-bed hospital in Jefferson City in 2014, and SSM and MU Health Care say the average number of hospital beds in Jefferson City is only 135 a night. That’s with St. Mary’s and Capital Region Medical Center (CRMC) combined.

Mr. Smoot says Columbia-based MU Health is the only candidate that satisfies requirements from St. Mary’s to purchase its hospitals in Jefferson City and Mexico. Smoot spoke to Missourinet after a recent forum, where one resident called for rebidding the sale to a different entity.

“There’s a lot of speculation that there was some other great bidder out there that we should have paid attention to or didn’t pay attention to, and there is no other organization out there in the wings waiting to jump into this if this doesn’t come together,” says Smoot.

Backers of the proposed sale say it would eliminate duplication and would provide new health care options in the region.

But opponents say MU Health would operate St. Mary’s and CRMC in Jefferson City, if the sale is approved.

Jefferson City nurse and cancer survivor Tracey Vandelicht attended the recent forum, and tells Missourinet she wants St. Mary’s to be sold to another faith-based organization.

Other opponents worry about a future monopoly in Jefferson City. Connie Farrow is a spokeswoman for “A Coalition for Choice,” which says selling to MU Health must be off the table.

“If this merger goes through, they would have Capital Region here in Jeff City, they would have St. Mary’s and then they would, in Audrain (County), they would have all the facilities, the one donut hole left would be Boone Health in Columbia,” Farrow says.

Boone Hospital Center is affiliated with St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare.

Farrow says St. Mary’s received tax abatements and assistance with a new Highway 179 interchange, when they opened the hospital in 2014.

MU Health Care chief executive officer Jonathan Curtright tells Missourinet that there would still be major competition in Jefferson City and Columbia, adding that local jobs and good pay and benefits are important to him.

The proposed sale needs regulatory approval and could go before Missouri lawmakers for review in 2019 in Jefferson City.

“A Coalition for Choice” also wants the Trump Administration to block the proposed sale.

Click here to listen to the full interview between SSM Health’s Steve Smoot and Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth and KOMU’s Jacob Cavaiani, which was recorded on December 17, 2018 in Jefferson City:

Click here to listen to the full interview between Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth and “A Coalition for Choice” spokeswoman Connie Farrow and Jefferson City nurse Tracey Vandelicht, which was recorded on December 17, 2018 in Jefferson City:

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