A new children’s services partnership between CoxHealth and Mercy Springfield Communities is just getting off the ground, but the health system leaders have significant goals for the future of the pact.
The health systems on Nov. 13 announced what officials are calling a first-of-its-kind collaboration to address coverage gaps in the area. Health system officials say the pact would address a need in Springfield, as both CoxHealth and Mercy often must refer patients outside of the area due to a lack of pediatric specialists.
The health systems have issued a request for proposal seeking a full-service pediatric partner for the arrangement.
“This relationship ... is really a three-way partnership,” said CoxHealth President and CEO Max Buetow, speaking at a virtual news conference alongside David Argueta, president of Mercy Springfield Communities. “All three of our organizations going forward will firmly work together longitudinally to improve the care together.”
Argueta added, “This request for proposals is an important step in what’s been a very intentional process really aimed at building on the foundation and enhancing children’s services in our community. We took a lot of time to understand what it would look like.”
Health system officials say the partnership has been under discussion “for years.”
“David and Max are both relatively new to their roles, which gave them a unique opportunity to meet up and start a fresh dialogue about how to support the health care needs of the Ozarks,” officials from both health systems said in a joint statement. “They began discussing pediatric care and the needs our region faces early on in their professional relationship, about a year and a half or so ago. As time went on, they brought other members of their teams and the community in to begin exploring possibilities.”
Buetow said the logistical details of the partnership are still being worked out and largely would depend on which pediatrics partner is brought in for the collaboration. Health system officials say they’re working with a consultant to reach regional and national organizations to respond to the RFP.
A jointly operated facility is a top goal, the officials said.
“CoxHealth and Mercy have a vision for a stand-alone children’s hospital in this community,” Buetow said.
Health system officials say that if a stand-alone facility is developed, many of their pediatric services would shift to it. Additional details about a potential facility were unavailable by press time, with health system officials citing the early stages of the partnership.
While health system officials expressed enthusiasm in describing the pediatric services offered at the health systems, they acknowledged shared challenges they believe the collaboration will help address.
Chief among them is the need for specialty doctors.
“There are certain specialties that we simply do not have enough patients on each side to be able to sustain them,” said Dr. Kofi Asare-Bawuah, medical director for children’s services at CoxHealth. “If we pool our resources together, we will be able to provide specialists.”
Dr. John Burson, regional service line chair for women and children at Mercy Springfield Communities, noted a localized pediatrics solution that includes specialty doctors would save patients from having to travel outside of the health systems and the area, generally to Kansas City and St. Louis.
“If we don’t have that specialist here, then it’s hard for those patients who have to travel out of town. It’s a big strain on our families,” he said
The systems have a collective service area that includes some 225,000 children in the region, officials said.
Speaking to the statistical need for the partnership, Argueta said health system leaders estimate as much as 30% of children and families “forgo or delay” care due to the coverage gaps in the area.
The process to find a pediatrics partner includes a national RFP and looking into organizations already operating in that space to find the best fit, officials said. Health system officials said the RFP has been issued privately, so they were unable to disclose specific organizations that may be ideal for the pediatrics partnership. They said their research has not uncovered a similar partnership involving three health systems that offer pediatrics.
“We may find that the right partner for us may have a little different spin and take us in a different direction,” Buetow said.
Area residents will have a chance to weigh in on the collaboration to help guide it, the officials said.
CoxHealth and Mercy have scheduled a Dec. 13 public listening session at Jarrett Middle School for community members to ask questions about the project.
“We’re inviting the entire community to come and visit with us,” Buetow said.
A timeline and other details are slated to be shared in the near future, health system officials said, noting the partnership marks the first time CoxHealth and Mercy have collaborated at this scale.
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