ST. LOUIS — Mercy health system of Chesterfield, Mo., has announced it will spend $4.6 billion over the next eight years to enhance its Missouri operations. The investments include a centralized telemedicine care center in suburban St. Louis; new hospitals in St. Charles County and Franklin County and two hospitals in tornado-devastated Joplin, including a larger one in Newton County and a smaller one in Jasper County.
The plan includes significant investments to increase staff and improve technology.
The Missouri plan is part of a $5.8 billion strategic plan for Mercy's four-state region that includes new facilities, improved services for underserved populations, the hiring of 800 doctors, expansion of specialty care services, improvement of pediatric services and expansion of the system's technologic capabilities.
Mercy announced the Missouri projects during an October meeting here for community leaders. The telemedicine center, called the Mercy Virtual Care Center, is slated to open in 2014. It will serve as a telemedicine hub for the Mercy system. Intensivists and other clinicians at the center will support on-the-ground clinical teams by remotely monitoring the care of inpatients and outpatients of all acuity levels throughout Mercy's service area.
In addition to the $90 million Mercy will invest to build the telemedicine center, it plans to spend about $590 million in technology to get the center online. At the center, Mercy will employ a program called Mercy SafeWatch that it has been using in some of its intensive care units. This monitoring system uses in-room cameras and audio connections to enable specialists to monitor patients remotely.
At the telemedicine center, stroke specialists including neurologists and neurointensivists can consult with emergency room physicians, including on the use of clot-busting drugs. Care center staff also will coordinate with radiologists throughout Mercy's network around the clock to read and interpret scans and other tests. Likewise, a pathology team will be able to process medical queries in real time. The center also will offer primary care support, nurses who are available by phone or email and chronic disease management experts. Telemedicine staffers may interpret vital sign readings transmitted from patients' homes and coordinate care for patients who are under the care of multiple physicians and other clinicians.
Lynn Britton, Mercy president and chief executive, explained that such telemedicine applications would allow patients throughout the system's service area — whether they are urban, suburban or rural — to get access to the same level of care.
The system also will put in place programs to enable clinicians and patients to communicate electronically and securely about sensitive medical information, in­cluding through email.
In fast-growing St. Charles County, which is adjacent to St. Louis County, Mercy plans to add a hospital and other facilities. The system has previously announced plans for its two new campuses and other facilities in Joplin, in southwestern Missouri, where a spring tornado destroyed Mercy's hospital, medical office building and some of its affiliated primary care sites around town. Mercy also previously announced a new facility in Franklin County's Washington. Franklin County is southwest of St. Charles County.
Mercy's plans for expansion throughout its four states include adding 114 new facilities — including imaging, specialty and primary care offices — that will be aligned with the system's regional hospitals. It also will add about 35 urgent care sites and sites at existing retail locations.
Many of the communities Mercy serves are experiencing doctor shortages, and so the system plans to recruit about 500 primary care physicians and 300 specialty care doctors systemwide by about 2019.
When it comes to aiding populations who are having difficulty accessing the health care system, Mercy plans to use a program called Project Access to identify patients with chronic conditions who use the emergency department multiple times. Project Access will help people whose conditions can better be treated in the primary care environment to establish a primary care medical home, explained Dr. Tom Hale, executive medical director of Mercy's Center for Innovative Care. He said Mercy will be improving the hours of existing primary care sites and adding new sites to help ensure these medical homes are convenient for patients.
Throughout its service area, Mercy is investing in pediatric care, in part by improving its outpatient services for children and its school-based care services and by offering schools an online resource called HealthTeacher. The program helps educators teach children about good health habits.
Mercy's investment plans
Missouri — $4.6 billion, including
- $1 billion in Joplin
- $1.2 billion in Springfield area
- $920 million in St. Louis area
- $236 million in Washington area
- $290 million in St. Charles area
- $405 million for routine spending such as for facility upkeep and equipment replacement in Eastern Missouri
- $300 million for information technology upgrades statewide
- $200 million for the work of Mercy's Center for Innovative Care strategies
- $60 million for Mercy's ministry office work and similar expenses
Oklahoma — $772 million
Arkansas — $404 million
Kansas — $39 million
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