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Community officials join leaders from CoxHealth and Mercy Springfield Communities on a panel at a Dec. 13 public listening session at Jarrett Middle School.
Provided by CoxHealth
Community officials join leaders from CoxHealth and Mercy Springfield Communities on a panel at a Dec. 13 public listening session at Jarrett Middle School.

CoxHealth, Mercy plan to announce third pediatric partner by spring

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Roughly a month after CoxHealth and Mercy Springfield Communities announced a children’s services partnership, health system leaders say they are targeting a spring announcement for a yet-to-be-identified third partner.

Officials from both health systems were part of a panel at a public listening session last night at Jarrett Middle School. The event, which drew several dozen in attendance, didn’t expand details of the partnership much beyond what was announced Nov. 13, when CoxHealth and Mercy issued a request for proposal seeking a full-service pediatric partner for the arrangement.

CoxHealth President and CEO Max Buetow said at the session the third partner likely would be an academic institution, adding the health systems are receiving “a lot of responses from nationally recognized organizations” in the month since the RFP process began. Officials are working with a consultant to reach interested parties, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Officials after the event declined to disclose the number or names of those expressing interest.

“It’s really encouraging,” Buetow said to the audience. “We continue to be reaffirmed with the amount of interest that we’re seeing through that process.”

The partnership was born out of the desire to address coverage gaps in pediatric care in the Ozarks, officials say. Both CoxHealth and Mercy often must refer patients out of the area due to a shortage of pediatric specialists. Officials say developing a local stand-alone children’s hospital is the top goal.

Citing data from the American Hospital Association, Dr. Staci Rogers, CoxHealth chief transformation officer, said there are over 6,100 hospitals in the U.S. Of those, approximately only 220 are children’s hospitals, according to the Children’s Hospital Association. However, officials at the event made it clear the local health systems plan to add to that hospital total.

“We’re also here to make a commitment to this community that we’re going to do this,” Buetow said. “We’re telling you this isn’t just something we’re dreaming and scheming about. This is something we’re going to make happen.”

Rogers said CoxHealth and Mercy have developed a vision statement for the project: “Establishing a freestanding children’s hospital to provide seamless specialty care for the children of our region.”

Dr. John Burson, regional service line chair for women and children at Mercy Springfield Communities, said services offered by some children’s hospitals include cardiology, gastroenterology, orthopedics, neurosurgery and critical care. While some in attendance inquired about specific services such as a Down syndrome clinic or musical therapy, officials said it was too early in the process to know what options a local hospital might offer.

Buetow said that while the listening session is still early in the project’s process, it serves as an important component to keep the public informed.

“Part of the reason we don’t have a lot of meat on the bone yet is because we’re bringing this transparently to the community very early,” he said. “You can shepherd and guide us along the way.”

After the event, Marie Moore, chief nursing officer of Mercy Springfield Communities, said she and Rogers are among project team members meeting several times a week as the RFP process continues.

“Our committee will go through all of those responses together across our organizations and then really try to narrow the list down,” she said, declining to disclose the RFP submission deadline.

Moore also remained tight-lipped regarding potential children’s hospital sites.

“We want to make sure we have that third entity before we start diving into anything specific around land or location,” she said.

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