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Missouri health system 'shores up defenses' as BJC, Saint Luke's near merger

As a $10 billion merger nears completion in Missouri, one of the state's rural health systems is donning its armor, according to a Dec. 4 interview on 93.9 The Eagle

On the radio show, Jerry Kennett, MD, chair of the board of trustees at Boone Hospital Center in Columbia, Mo., expressed concerns about the upcoming combination of Kansas City, Mo.-based Saint Luke's Health System and St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare, which will create a 28-hospital system. Dr. Kennett has been involved with Boone Health for 44 years — serving as a cardiologist and chief medical officer before joining the board — and recalls when Boone Health separated from BJC HealthCare in 2021. 

When asked if he regrets the split, which made Boone Health an independent system, Dr. Kennett defended the choice. Boone Health had been paying BJC more than $35 million a year when the systems chose to part ways, but he remains open to other partnerships, especially as large systems continue to consolidate, he said. 

"With any business, you need to always keep alternatives in mind," Dr. Kennett said. "We made the right move by leaving BJC." 

But now that BJC is joining forces with Saint Luke's, Boone Health believes a partnership with MU Health Care — the academic health system in Columbia, Mo. — could benefit both parties. 

Together, MU Health Care and Boone Health pool about $1.7 billion, a fraction of BJC and Saint Luke's $10 billion in combined revenue. But Dr. Kennett suggests they could collaborate to prevent patients from going to the larger system; for example, they could work to refer patients to a local bone marrow transplant unit rather than sending them to St. Louis. 

It will be important for Missouri's rural systems to look ahead and "shore up [their] defenses" ahead of the merger — which has cleared all regulatory hurdles and is expected to close Jan. 1 — according to Dr. Kennett. He speculates that the new leadership at both MU Health Care (which named a new CEO in February) and Boone Health (which named a new CEO in October) will be open to working together, but maintains faith in his system's ability to succeed regardless.

"We're on a great trajectory right now," Dr. Kennett said. "There is no doubt in the board of directors' minds that we're going to be successful, and the new CEO — I mean, he wouldn't have come here if he didn't think we were going to be successful." 

Meanwhile, MU Health Care is zeroed in on a planned integration of its own, the system's CEO, Ric Ransom, told Becker's Dec. 6.  

"We are not surprised by the growing number of hospital systems merging in the interest of forming a more sustainable model of care for the future," Mr. Ransom said. "In fact, MU Health Care is firmly focused on the Jan. 1, 2024 integration with long-time Jefferson City affiliate Capital Region Medical Center. This integration will offer a path to sustainability and growth, providing access to expanded services, technology, improved care coordination and economies of scale."

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