Merger of Catholic health care systems is off to a good start Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
ssm health
Speakers at the recent transfer of the Monroe Clinic from the Congregation of Sisters of Saint Agnes to SSM Health were, from left: Laura Kaiser, president and CEO, SSM Health; Sr. Jean Steffes, general superior, Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes; Mike Sanders, President and CEO, Monroe Clinic; Damond Boatwright, regional president of operations, SSM Health of Wisconsin; and Msgr. James Bartylla, vicar general of the Diocese of Madison. (Contributed photo)

MADISON -- The merger of Catholic health care systems in Wisconsin and northern Illinois is off to a good start. “We are getting to know one another,” said Damond Boatwright, regional president of operations for SSM Health in Wisconsin.

In an interview, Boatwright discussed the recent transfer of the sponsorship of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA) health care ministries to SSM Health. Agnesian HealthCare, based in Fond du Lac, and Monroe Clinic, based in Monroe, are now part of SSM Health.

The merger means that SSM Health’s network in Wisconsin now extends into northern Illinois and includes seven hospitals, 10 post-acute facilities, and more than 85 physician offices and other outpatient care sites, as well as a health plan and pharmacy management company. SSM Health now has about 14,000 employees and physicians.

Integrating systems

“We are at the beginning of the beginning when it comes to integrating our systems,” said Boatwright, who is very busy visiting the new members of the SSM family.

A newly formed Regional Cultural Integration Team will be meeting in March, he said. Boatwright will be overseeing the team, which will include representatives from Monroe Clinic and Agnesian HealthCare as well as what is called “legacy SSM Health” -- employees from the SSM facilities before the merger.

“We want to look at how to preserve each organization’s rituals and identify those practices and history unique to each,” said Boatwright. “We want to find ways to celebrate and honor these traditions.”

Beyond that, he said, they will “find opportunities to help us recommend ways to blend the unique culture into one.”

New opportunities

Boatwright said there are five reasons why he sees the integration of the systems as a “wonderful opportunity”:

1. First and foremost is the most obvious. We wholeheartedly believe in the value of Catholic health ministry, he said. He noted that this ministry was started by Sisters who partnered with the communities they served.

2. With our new size, we want to identify best practices across all of our organization, share them, and improve the quality of health care.

3. We want to keep health care local. We cover 22 counties, and we now have seven hospitals and 85 clinics across Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

4. We want to be able to have affordable health care and lower the overall costs. We are a not-for-profit organization, so we can pass more of the savings on to those who struggle. We continue to care for all people, including people on the margins.

5. We want to grow our integrated delivery network. We now have 10 post-acute facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities. We want to grow so that we can serve more people.

Boatwright has been holding town hall meetings in Monroe and Fond du Lac. He has invited staff and community members to these meetings.

“We’ve seen excitement, anxiety, and overall encouragement and support. People are thrilled,” he said, but added that they wonder “what happens next.”

Continuing the legacy

Boatwright can understand their feelings. “I personally have several emotions,” he said about the changes coming about with the merger.

“One is being humbled by the 100-plus-year legacy in our hands to oversee and continue.”

The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA), founded in 1858, has been involved in health care for more than 120 years.

They have a total of nine ministries offering a wide array of quality health and wellness services for individuals and families, including Agnesian Pharmacies/Prescription Centers and Agnesian Health Shoppe, Christian Home & Rehabilitation Center, Consultants Laboratory, Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, Ripon Medical Center, St. Agnes Hospital, St. Francis Home, Villa Loretto & Villa Rosa, and Waupun Memorial Hospital.

SSM Health was founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. In Madison, two Sisters arrived in 1912 to open the first faith-based hospital here. SSM Health, headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., has care delivery sites in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

Boatwright said the Agnesian Sisters had been considering a merger for about two years. “In the last year, they narrowed it down to a few potential choices,” he said.

“In the end, they chose SSM because it was the best fit, since our values matched up almost identically since we are both Catholic.”

In a statement, Sr. Jean Steffes, general superior of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes, said, “As sponsors and partners in ministry with Agnesian Healthcare and Monroe Clinic, CSA has experienced 120 years of continuous blessings. Sharing in the mission of Jesus with all those serving and being served through these vital and vibrant ministries has been a privilege beyond measure. We know that Agnesian HealthCare and Monroe Clinic will continue into a future of dynamic growth and depth of mission with SSM Health.”

Agnesian HealthCare, Monroe Clinic, and their affiliates have adopted the SSM Health brand, while also honoring their legacy names. The brand transition is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

The merger all came together in December, and as of the beginning of January, the transfer was completed.

Boatwright said the bishops of the dioceses in the area were “very supportive” of these organizations coming together. “They are happy that we want to preserve our faith, principles, and core values,” he said.

Blessed to work in Catholic health care

Boatwright is a member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Madison and Knights of Columbus Council 5321. “As a Catholic, I feel very blessed to work for a Catholic organization. I am committed to providing exceptional care to reveal the healing presence of God.”

Boatwright began working for SSM Health-Wisconsin in 2014. Prior to SSM, he was president and CEO of Overland Park Regional Medical Center and Lee’s Summit Medical Center in Kansas.

Boatwright started his health care career with the Medical University of South Carolina in 1995 and has served in various capacities, including associate administrator I/II and chief operating officer in several hospitals throughout the Southeast.

He is involved in many community and professional organizations and is currently chair-elect of the American Hospital Association.

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