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Rolla’s Phelps Health is joining a collaboration led by BJC HealthCare

Phelps Health will be joining the BJC HealthCare collaborative, bringing more resources and opportunities to the hospital without giving up any control.
Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
Phelps Health in Rolla will be joining a collaborative of hospitals and health systems in Missouri and Illinois.

Hospitals that serve predominantly rural areas have long struggled to find ways to have the resources of big-city health care systems without going as far as merging and losing local control. Phelps Health in Rolla is looking to join a collaborative run by St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare to thread that needle.

The 242-bed hospital in Rolla that serves Phelps County and adjacent rural areas will be the eighth member of the collaborative that includes hospitals and health systems in Illinois and Missouri.

Each member pays an annual fee to BJC to be a part of the group that shares information on best practices in areas including cybersecurity and telehealth procedures. The institutions also join forces on purchasing to save costs and share information on treatments.

“BJC brought these hospitals together to really show how we can work together without becoming part of a whole other health system,” Phelps Health CEO Jason Shenefield said.

“We are an independent health care system governed by a local elected board of trustees, and that is not going to change,” Shenefield said. “But the collaborative allows us to have the opportunity, but not the requirement, to work with bigger health care organizations.”

Blessing Health System in Quincy, Illinois, joined the collaborative nearly 10 years ago, and CEO Maureen Kahn said it’s resulted in nothing but good for the 347-bed hospital and its associated health care facilities.

STLPR's Jonathan Ahl discusses this story on 'St. Louis on the Air'

“We were looking at a merger,” Kahn said. “But losing the local control and commitment to the community for what would have been a very short-term cost savings was not what we wanted.

“The collaborative understood what it meant to us to keep care local and what it meant to us to really look at strengthening our position,” Khan said.

The independence and local control is an active part of how the collaborative works, Khan said.

“If we have a patient we need to refer elsewhere for more specialized care, it doesn’t have to be to a BJC facility. We get to do what’s best for the patient,” Kahn said.

The fee Blessing pays is less than $15,000 a year, which Khan said has “already saved us millions of dollars.”

“This collaboration is going to save money and help us learn from best practices from larger systems to specifically improve patient care,” Shenefield of Phelps Health said. “It’s an honor and privilege to be invited to be a part of this.”

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.