Mercy Health planning to expand in Chesterfield, St. Charles County

2011-10-12T00:06:00Z 2012-12-23T16:12:40Z Mercy Health planning to expand in Chesterfield, St. Charles CountyBY JIM DOYLE • jdoyle@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8372 stltoday.com

Mercy Health plans to build a new hospital and other medical facilities in St. Charles County and a "virtual care center" in Chesterfield.

Mercy announced the projects, part of a larger eight-year investment plan, on Tuesday evening at a presentation before 150 invited guests, including Gov. Jay Nixon, at the Edward Jones Atrium on Manchester Road.

Mercy president and chief executive Lynn Britton said that plans to build a hospital, a multispecialty clinic and other facilities in the St. Louis area's most rapidly expanding county are still in the early planning stages. The building projects are budgeted for $290 million in St. Charles County and $90 million in Chesterfield. The high-tech Chesterfield center would allow doctors and nurses to provide telemedicine services to patients in outlying areas.

Mercy Health, whose assets total about $4.4 billion, operates Mercy Hospital St. Louis in Creve Coeur and 27 other hospitals in four states including Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. It employs about 28,000 people system wide.

Mercy officials view the outlying suburbs as ready markets for expansion. "It's very important to us that we reach out to communities that are not now being served," said Mercy Health board member John Arnold.

Britton did not identify proposed building sites nor say how many licensed hospital beds Mercy plans. Mercy Health does not appear to have filed a "certificate of need" application yet with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for its hospital project in St. Charles County, said Tara McKinney, a staff member of the Missouri Health Facilities Review Committee, a five-person board that must approve any plans for an acute-care hospital. The state panel was established to review proposed health care services, address community needs and monitor patient access to hospitals with an eye toward containing health care costs and ensuring quality care.

Mercy Health's biggest competitor in St. Charles County is SSM Healthcare Corp., which operates St. Joseph Health Center-St. Charles; St. Joseph West-Lake St. Louis; and St. Joseph-Wentzville, which has an emergency room and provides limited hospital services.

Mercy's other potential competitor in St. Charles County is BJC Healthcare, which operates Barnes-Jewish Hospital-St. Peters, as well as Progress West HealthCare Center, a small hospital in O'Fallon.

A public spat ensued before the Missouri Health Facilities Review Committee when BJC Healthcare applied in 2003 to build Progress West. Its prime opponent, St. Louis-based SSM, claimed that the county already had enough hospital beds.

BJC argued that southern St. Charles County was underserved and that its analysts projected future growth in the county. BJC eventually won approval, and its hospital opened in February 2007. But in the past few years, the county's new housing starts declined with the recession.

"We have increased the number of beds there, and will continue to bring licensed beds on line as needed," said June Fowler, a BJC spokeswoman. "Once the economy gets going, we expect that county to be one of the most rapidly growing communities in Missouri."

Still, the St. Charles County market has proved to be spotty.

According to the St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition, which represents many of St. Louis' largest employers, Barnes-Jewish Hospital-St. Peters enjoyed nearly $25 million in profit (a profit margin of about 17 percent) in 2009, the latest year of available data. (BJC contests that estimate, saying its profits in St. Peters were lower.) However, the Progress West facility had $8 million in losses, for an 18 percent loss.

The Business Health Coalition found that SSM's St. Joseph Health Center in St. Charles had $10.5 million in earnings in 2009 — a profit margin of about 4.83 percent. St. Joseph West in Lake St. Louis had earnings of $1.9 million, a loss of 1.76 percent.

Mercy Health's Britton said the planned virtual care center — a multistory glass and steel building planned for an undisclosed Chesterfield location — would add 300 to 400 jobs to the local economy and allow Mercy to expand its telemedicine capabilities to outlying care centers across a four-state region.

In addition, Mercy Health plans to launch a "telestroke program" to enable patients across Missouri to access the same standard of stroke care that patients receive at the health system's certified stroke center here.

Today, the health system's intensive care unit (ICU) telemedicine program allows a team of highly trained physicians and nurses to use remote video cameras and other telecommunications gear to monitor the care of more than 400 patients across the Midwest. The planned virtual care center would enable Mercy Health to extend its telemedicine services to additional ICUs and into other care sites such as emergency departments.

Britton said the investment announcements culminated a yearlong planning process that included 28 community roundtables held in areas served by Mercy Health hospitals and medical clinics. At those events, he said, local leaders discussed community health needs, including the shortage of physicians and difficulty of access to health care, particularly in rural communities, along with the high cost of health care.

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