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Via Christi merges with St. Louis-based Ascension Health

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, April 1, 2013, at 12:37 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, April 11, 2013, at 10:31 a.m.

Via Christi timeline

1889: The Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother begin their healing mission at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, operating a 12-bed facility in a three-story house.

1903: Mount Carmel Hospital in Pittsburg opens as the first health care facility operated by Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita.

1925: The Sisters of St. Joseph take over sponsorship of the Wichita Hospital, founded in the 1800s.

1944: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita begin expansion of the Wichita Hospital with a new building named St. Joseph Hospital.

1961: The Wichita Hospital closes and patients are cared for at St. Joseph Hospital.

1995: Sponsoring congregations merge health care ministries, creating the Via Christi Health System.

2007: Ascension Health becomes 50 percent sponsor for Via Christi Health Systems. At that time, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita joined their fellow congregations to form the Congregation of St. Joseph, which exercises its health ministries through Ascension Health.

2013: Via Christi Health is fully integrated into Ascension Health following its merger with Marian Health.  

Source: Via Christi Health System

Via Christi Health was one of three health systems on Monday to become part of the nation’s largest nonprofit health system.

St. Louis-based Ascension Health Alliance announced the merger with Marian Health System, which besides Via Christi operated two other health systems that include facilities in Oklahoma, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Monday’s announcement followed one made by the two organizations last September, when they said they had signed a memorandum of understanding that could lead to Ascension’s full integration of Marian and Via Christi.

“We are pleased to fully become a part of Ascension Health and believe this agreement will strengthen Via Christi and Catholic health care nationwide,” said Jeff Korsmo, president and CEO of Via Christi Health in a statement.

Via Christi employs more than 10,000 people and operates hospitals, senior villages, physician offices and health services, mostly in Kansas. Its Wichita operations include three hospitals — Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, Via Christi Hospital on East Harry and Via Christi Hospital on St. Teresa — as well as Via Christi Clinic, the area’s largest physician group. Including Via Christi, Ascension employs more than 150,000 people in health care operations in 23 states.

In an interview Monday, Korsmo and Bob Henkel, Ascension Health’s CEO, said that while the Via Christi name will remain, other things may change, including some back-office operations, which Korsmo described as the operations that support Via Christi’s caregivers and clinicians.

“We will take a good look at where there are opportunities for us to tap into the scale and expertise Ascension has,” Korsmo said, adding that whatever happens, there “won’t be a gutting of jobs in the community.”

Ascension’s Henkel added: “I wouldn’t expect any substantive changes.”

Both executives said the merger will make their respective organizations stronger while at the same time advancing each other’s goals of providing quality health care at lower costs.

Korsmo said he expects Ascension to help Via Christi improve its costs of providing services, as well as to help it identify and implement best practices. Korsmo said Ascension and Via Christi share a deep commitment to providing health care to the poor.

Henkel said the merger gives Ascension a broader geographic footprint that allows it to be less affected by the economic swings of any one community or region. Ascension also will benefit from Via Christi’s expertise in senior services, he said.

“It’s a real mutual benefit here,” he said.

Henkel is familiar with Via Christi in a way that most CEOs probably aren’t in mergers.

He has been a member of Via Christi’s board of directors for several years.

That happened because of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita, which in 2007 joined other St. Joseph congregations to form the Congregation of St. Joseph, part of the sponsorship structure of Ascension.

The Sisters of St. Joseph are one of two Via Christi sponsors.

Its other sponsor is the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, which has operated three regional health systems – Ministry Health Care in Wisconsin and Minnesota, St. John Health System in Oklahoma, and Via Christi – through the Marian Health System since 1989.

Henkel said Korsmo will retain his post as president and CEO of Via Christi and its board of directors will remain intact. Henkel said that he is vacating his seat on the board because Via Christi is now fully a part of Ascension.

In addition to reporting to Via Christi’s board, Korsmo but will report to Nicholas F. Desien. Desien will serve as Ascension Health Ministry market leader for Wisconsin, Kansas and Oklahoma.

“It’s a model that’s effective for us,” Henkel said of local and regional CEOs.

Sister Therese Gottschalk, who served as president and CEO of Marian Health, will be an executive adviser to Henkel.

She will continue to serve on the boards of Ministry Health Care, St. John Health and Via Christi.

A final merger agreement was reached between the Catholic health systems in March, officials said, and took effect Monday.

The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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