• Group looks to save St. Mary's Medical Center

  • If St. Mary’s Medical Center is sold in the coming weeks, community leaders in Blue Springs want a message to get through clearly to the new owners: This hospital is hugely important to the character and growth of our city, and we want it to stay open.

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  • “Our son was about to begin first grade, and he broke his arm during baseball practice. We rushed him to St. Mary’s in Blue Springs, Mo. Throughout the whole ordeal the nurses, doctors, and other staff were very helpful and supportive. My family and I have lived in Blue Springs for over 10 years and have been to St. Mary’s a number of times for different reasons and the staff has always been wonderful and convenient. It has been a blessing to have them so close to our home.” – Betty Belzeski, Blue Springs
    If St. Mary’s Medical Center is sold in the coming weeks, community leaders in Blue Springs want a message to get through clearly to the new owners: This hospital is hugely important to the character and growth of our city, and we want it to stay open.
    Officials have been weighing the hospital’s economic and social impact since word started getting around about the possible sale of St. Mary’s and its sister hospital, St. Joseph Medical Center, on State Line Road at Interstate 435 in Kansas City. Both are owned by Carondelet Health.
    Now local leaders have created a “Faces for St. Mary’s” social media campaign, asking people to share their stories about St. Mary’s and sign an online petition that says a sale of the hospital “creates a significant risk to its future services and presence in Blue Springs” and declares “future presence and ownership goal should include remaining loyal to community and (a) Catholic Faith based institution.”
    More than 200 people had signed the petition as of late Friday and left comments like this by Haley S. of Odessa: “Oh my gosh! I just had my daughter there and my first son was born there. That is a wonderful hospital. I would hate to see this hospital closed!”
    Bill Essmann, general manager of the Adams Point Conference Center and a member of the St. Mary’s Medical Center Foundation board for eight years, has spearheaded the social-media drive, part of a grass-roots effort to make the community’s voice heard. Look for T-shirts in next weekend’s Fall Fun Fest parade.
    “Would we just wait to see what happens, or would we do something?” Essmann asks.
    Brien Starner, president of the Blue Springs Economic Development Corp., says the Faces for St. Mary’s has gone fine so far but needs to go viral and show the support of the tens of thousands of people for the 31-year-old non-profit hospital that might soon be in new hands.
    “Who really wants to cross over that line ... and say, ‘We hear you, but we’re not going to listen to you?’” he says.
    And for Mayor Carson Ross, the equation is straightforward.
    Page 2 of 4 - “We’re the 10th largest city in the state of Missouri,” he said. “For a community our size, it’s critical that we have access to good, quality medical care.”
    “The staff won my heart when we were choosing a hospital to have our son last year. Everyone there was amazing. My experience was wonderful, I can’t thank the nurses enough for being so supportive and comforting during my stay.” – Melissa Garland Riordan
    Calling all Catholic churches! We must stand together to keep our Catholic hospital open! Be heard! Be the Faces for St. Mary’s Medical Center!
    “I love that every day you always hear prayer through the hospital, it’s uplifting!” – Dedra J.
    The hospital employs more than 650 people, the second-largest employer in the city, behind the Blue Springs School District, with a $30 million annual payroll. Essmann helped lead the effort last year – during the hospital’s 30th anniversary – to raise a $1 million to renovate its operating rooms. The hospital is known for its birthing unit and, away from its campus, annual fundraisers such as the Butterfly Ball and the Paul Splittorff golf tournament.
    “That’s what St. Mary’s is,” Essmann said.
    He says it’s his understanding that a sale could be announced as early as this month. Of the three potential buyers, two are known, he says. One is Shawnee Mission Medical Center, at 75th and I-35 in Merriam, a hospital like St. Mary’s and St. Joseph with a religious affiliation. The other is HCA, the nationwide hospital company whose eight metro hospitals include Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence and Lee’s Summit Medical Center.
    That would put two HCA hospitals less than five miles apart, and that raises concerns.
    “HCA is sort of the 800-pound gorilla,” Essmann said.
    Carondelet would not comment on the situation but issued a statement acknowledging “partnering, joint venture and merger discussions with other health systems” and that “these discussions have intensified recently” but giving no indication of when any decision might be announced.
    (St. Mary’s Manor, the nursing home next to the hospital, is under separate ownership and not part of these discussions.)
    Many of those weighing in at Faces for St. Mary’s express a concern that a sale would mean closing the hospital.
    “I hope it’s not coming across as a legitimate fear that it will happen,” Essmann said. “It could happen.”
    But he also points out that much of this involves speculation and it’s possible that HCA, for instance, could buy the hospital and pump money into it.
    “I think a lot would depend on who would buy it,” said Mayor Ross.
    Essmann put the hospital’s economic impact $60 million a year, although Starner, of the EDC, put it at “well in excess of $100 million a year,” pointing to all the doctors who have located their practices near the hospital and who would presumably leave if it went away.
    Page 3 of 4 - “They’re going to have to go where the revenue is,” Starner said.
    The potential loss of all that led to Faces for St. Mary’s.
    “Let’s just say it was Kohl’s – 250 employees – or Fike – 400 employees,” Starner said, adding that people around town would be asking, “What are we doing?”
    That conversation is getting under way regarding St. Mary’s, he said.
    “So there’s not a lot of time to make sure our voices are heard as a community,” Starner said.
    “This hospital saved my husband’s life! He would have died had he needed to go any further for immediate medical treatment.” – Martha Poe, Blue Springs.
    “I am very disheartened to hear of the possibility of St. Mary’s Medical Center being shut down. I delivered all three of my children in the maternity unit and was given exemplary care. ... I haven’t needed the hospital for many years, but in the event of a life threatening situation, I have always felt secure knowing the hospital is there. We live further east and the extra 15 minutes it would take to get to another medical care facility could be the difference between life and death.” – Becky F., Oak Grove
    Mayor Ross is like everyone else – he has a story to tell.
    His is on Dec. 27, 1974, when he, his wife and young children were new to Blue Springs and another baby was coming that day. This was seven years before St. Mary’s, so off they drove – all the way to Research Hospital at Gregory and Prospect in Kansas City. Having a hospital nearby matters tremendously, he said.
    He has seen this from several perspectives. He was on the St. Mary’s board when it opened, and he became the second board president. When he left the state legislature in 1996, he was approached and agreed to serve on Carondelet’s board.
    “Carondelet’s a pretty good corporate citizen,” he said.
    And he’s among the many from a couple of generations of civic leaders who have poured their time and energy into the board, the golf tournament, the gala, the volunteer work and the other hospital-related events.
    “I tell you what: Just about a who’s who in Blue Springs had been involved in this hospital. ... And we don’t want to lose it,” he said.
    To the mayor, many factors combine for the quality of life enjoyed in Blue Springs: housing, good schools, low taxes, good fire and police protection – “and having a hospital.”
    Starner echoes that. From an economic development viewpoint, a hospital is a crucial building block. Having one in your city rather than one city over makes a difference in trying to attract investment.
    Page 4 of 4 - “That changes who we are,” he said.
    Ross points out that the Faces for St. Mary’s effort is private, not pushed by the city, but that he fully supports it. Maybe, he said, a new owner would keep St. Mary’s open.
    “You know, I would hope so,” he said. “I mean, why would you buy something just to close it? It just doesn’t make sense.”
    In any event, he’d like to see St. Mary’s stay with its focus on caring for people.
    “We want it to be mission driven rather than profit driven,” he said.
    The hospital, working with the foundation, does a lot for people in need, Essmann said.
    “They do a ton of free health care that they just write off,” he said.
    Maybe a patient can’t afford to pay an insurance deductible. Maybe a patient needs gas to get to therapy. The hospital and the foundation work to find a way, he said.
    “That’s really their mission,” Essmann said, “caring for people, especially the poor.”
    Starner points to the findings and recommendations of the recent “Renew the Blue” effort, which involved 200 people and 18 months of in-depth discussion about the city’s assets and opportunities.
    “And that medical center was a key as to what this community is ... and wants to be.”

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