Marian Health System announced Wednesday that it has signed a memorandum of understanding that could result in Via Christi Health being fully integrated into St. Louis-based Ascension Health, the largest Catholic and nonprofit health care system in the U.S.
“The memorandum begins a process of deeper sharing of information and ultimately a decision to be made by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, who sponsor Marian Health System,” said Jeff Korsmo, president and chief executive of Via Christi Health.
Korsmo said Via Christi officials estimate the decision will be made within the next six months. Currently, Via Christi Health is 50 percent sponsored by Ascension Health and 50 percent sponsored by Marian Health System.
Like hospitals across the country, including Catholic hospitals that historically were owned and operated by orders of nuns, local hospitals have for more than a decade been in the process of consolidating and creating new networks.
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“We hope to tap into the resources Ascension Health brings to do better work in areas of quality and service,” Korsmo said.
He said hospital officials do not anticipate any changes or reductions to the local workforce if consolidation comes to fruition.
Via Christi employs more than 10,000 people in its hospitals, senior villages and other offices. It is the largest provider of health care services in Kansas.
Via Christi Health is not the only system that would be affected. Marian Health System also sponsors Ministry Health Care in Milwaukee and St. John Health System in Tulsa. Combined, those systems include 36 hospitals and more than 150 clinics.
Although the decision could cause structural changes to the organization, Korsmo said most patients won’t see many changes day to day.
Korsmo said the only possible downside of coming fully under the umbrella of Ascension Health would be the loss of some decision-making power at the local level. However, he emphasized that the full sponsorship would make things simpler for Via Christi Health because currently it must seek approval of boards from both Ascension Health and Marian Health Systems on large decisions.
He said the consolidation was separate from Via Christi’s strategic plan and the Via Christi board of directors would continue to function under the sponsorship.
The organizations will share financial and policy information throughout the due diligence period before a decision is made. Even if the merger is approved, the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother would continue to play a role within the organization and “have the responsibility of holding Ascension to its mission,” Korsmo said.
“They’ve been very successful and they’re very highly recognized for their work and quality commitment to serving the vulnerable,” Korsmo said of Ascension.
Consolidation of health care systems is likely to continue, Korsmo said, because of anticipated changes in reimbursement formulas for patients whose care is funded through government programs such as Medicare.
Via Christi Health became affiliated with Ascension Health in 2007. 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, according to a news release.
Ascension Health employs more than 121,000 in more than 1,400 locations in 21 states, according to the release.