Mercy, SSM Health open new hospitals amid pandemic

August Online

Aug. 11, 2020

Perhaps it's only fitting that Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City – South opened its doors in the middle of a crisis, since its origins trace back to another one.


Jim Gebhart, community president for Mercy in Oklahoma, said executives of the Chesterfield, Missouri-based health system began discussing a satellite hospital for Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City just after a tornado devastated the city's southern suburb of Moore on May 20, 2013. The tragedy left 24 people dead and more than 200 injured. It came two years after a tornado slammed Joplin, Missouri, killing 158 people and devastating St. John's Regional Medical Center. Mercy built Mercy Hospital Joplin to replace the hospital which took a direct hit.

In Moore, Mercy Hospital set up a clinic under a tent the morning after the twister hit and kept it open around the clock for about two months. It was staffed with doctors and nurses who volunteered their time and skills giving tetanus shots and treating injuries such as cuts and broken bones.

The opening celebration for the 36-bed Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City - South in June required masks and social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"When I volunteered in the tent, we would hear from residents of that area saying, 'When is Mercy going to build a hospital down here?" Gebhart recalled, and added: "That's really what started the conversation about us being there."

On June 23, the system opened the six-story, Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City–South. It cost $150 million to build. The 228,000-square-foot feeder hospital with 36 private patient rooms and outpatient services has one floor of shell space so it can grow along with the surrounding community.

The Commons Building links the new 316-bed SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital with the new Center for Specialized Medicine. The Commons Building's patinaed copper wrap is a nod to the landmark Desloge Towers, which is visible in the background. The hospital is set to open Sept. 1.

SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital is also opening its new hospital in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 316 bed, 800,000 square foot plus, quaternary care academic medical center is in midtown St. Louis. It will replace an adjacent 88-year-old hospital on the medical school campus of Saint Louis University.

SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital is a regional medical hub for high-acuity patients. Staffed by SLUCare, the physicians of Saint Louis University School of Medicine, it predominantly draws patients from Missouri and Illinois. The transplant and Level I trauma center is the largest Medicaid provider in Missouri.

Remote training required
While the pandemic required some adjustments for the hospitals' openings, both projects finished on schedule. Kelly Baumer, vice president for clinical services at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, said the new SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital will celebrate its official opening on Sept. 1, five years after the hospital became part of St. Louis-based SSM Health.


"We have not changed any of our timelines due to the pandemic," Baumer said. "What it has changed for us is how we are conducting training."

Specifically, some of the training had to be shifted to online. That includes giving employees video tours of their future workplace to orient them to the layout. When training has taken place in the new 10-floor building, workers have had to stay in small groups and practice social distancing.

Baumer said virus precautions also might prompt some minor design changes, such as the addition of plexiglass barriers in areas like the front reception desk and areas where staff work closely together. Planners are now studying logistics for the hospital's grand opening festivities in light of the need for social distancing.

Participants in the grand opening of Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City–South wore masks and stood at least 6 feet apart.

Gebhart said the fact that the hospital opened on schedule is "indicative of the spirit of Mercy right now, that whatever it takes to provide the care that we need to do, we're going to do it."

Reserve capacity
Even before its opening, the Mercy hospital in Moore became part of the system's COVID-19 surge plan for Oklahoma City. Had it been needed, the hospital could have taken patients infected with the virus in early June. That proved to be unnecessary because Oklahoma City wasn't a hotspot for the virus at that time. When the hospital opened in late June, the virus was taking an increasingly larger toll and by mid-July the Mercy Oklahoma City hospitals were seeing dozens of patients.

In response, Mercy slowed plans for opening nonemergency services at the new hospital. "What we've done is we're kind of bridling the capacity now in case of a COVID surge," Gebhart said. "We really believe that we might need those beds for care of COVID patients."

The hospital is on the campus of Oklahoma Heart Hospital South, of which Mercy is a part owner, and the heart hospital has one floor of the Mercy hospital with 16 beds and catherization lab. Both hospitals share some services, including an emergency room that triages and transfers high acuity patients to Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City or another appropriate facility.

A stained glass window in the two-story chapel at the new SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital.

Mission-minded design
In St. Louis, the new $550 million SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital will replace the two towers that house the current hospital. The oldest of those towers, the former Firmin Desloge Hospital, dates to 1932 and with its peaked copper roof is considered a city landmark; the other tower was built in 1988. The plans for repurposing them are still being developed.

Baumer calls the Commons Building the cornerstone of the new hospital. It connects the hospital and the ambulatory care center and is wrapped in patinaed copper, a nod to Desloge Tower. A two-story chapel soars from the Commons Building. There's an outdoor garden for reflection and prayer, other green spaces and water features on the grounds.

There are floor-to-ceiling windows in patient rooms. All of the patient rooms are private, and each has a sofa bed so a family member can stay over.

The hospital will have 642,016 feet of space, including an emergency room and trauma center that is triple the size of existing units. The new hospital will have 80 ICU beds, compared to 61 at the current one, and 17 operating rooms, two more than the current one. Its 160,000-square-foot Center for Specialized Medicine will house the offices of SLUCare specialists and clinics in over 30 fields.

Baumer said a decision on whether the new hospital will have a dedicated COVID unit will be made closer to the time patients are moved there, based on the number of COVID positive patients that the hospital is treating. Cases of the infection rose in Missouri in July but were trending down in early August. Baumer said the new hospital has the capability to use negative pressure ventilation in patient rooms as well as surgical and procedure areas to reduce risk of contagion.

"I really feel like this new facility just embodies what we at SSM Health are trying to do, which is provide those exceptional health care services to our community, to our region, and through that reveal the healing presence of God," Baumer said.



Copyright © 2020 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2020 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.