St. Louis virtual care center to expand telehealth, jobs

By Molly Merrill
10:40 AM

Mercy, the eighth largest Catholic healthcare system in the U.S., announced plans this week to build a virtual care center in Chesterfield, Mo., billed as "the first of its kind in the country."

The new facility is part of $4.6 billion in healthcare investments that the system plans to make across the state in the next eight years.

Mercy President and CEO Lynn Britton announced the plans to more than 150 invited guests, including Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, at an Oct. 11 community meeting. The long-term investments to meeting community health needs include $2.4 billion in the St. Louis area.

The meeting was a follow-up to a series of 28 community roundtables held across Mercy in 2010, where area leaders discussed community health needs and offered their ideas as part of a year-long planning process. Britton noted that several key themes emerged that impacted the development of community master plans across Mercy.

“While every community we serve is unique, there was a common thread in the themes from each community roundtable,” said Britton. “Participants expressed the need for health and wellness education for children, a desire for more physicians – particularly in rural communities, and an overall request to make healthcare easier – both in access and cost. We believe our resulting community master plans address the key issues that community members raised, and we are excited to begin implementing our plans not only in St. Louis but across all of the communities we serve.”

Technology was a major focus of Britton’s announcements, including a pilot project for eVisits and the expansion of stroke care through an electronic intensive care monitoring system. The new telestroke program will enable patients across Missouri to access the same standard of stroke care that patients receive at Mercy’s certified stroke center in St. Louis, he said.

Britton expects that the virtual care center, which will expand Mercy’s telemedicine capabilities to outlying care centers across a four-state region, will add 300 to 400 professional-level jobs to the local economy.
Currently, Mercy’s intensive care unit (ICU) telemedicine program, Mercy SafeWatch, allows a team of highly trained intensivists and critical care nurses to provide virtual care to more than 400 patients across the Midwest. The development of the virtual care center will enable the extension of Mercy SafeWatch to additional ICUs and into other care sites such as emergency departments, said Britton.

Britton also announced a major expansion into St. Charles County. While still in the early planning stages, a multi-specialty clinic and new hospital will be developed to serve the area’s most rapidly growing community. The facilities will be built with an enhanced patient experience in mind, based on feedback from consumers.

The meeting was also used to present ideas for addressing physician shortages. For the past decade, Mercy has been working with physicians to develop a model for physician integration that is physician-led and professionally-managed. Recently named Mercy Clinic, the multi-specialty organization is currently at 1,500 physician members, and includes 430 physicians in the St. Louis area. The clinic is recognized as bringing the first certified medical home to the St. Louis area and now has seven across Mercy, with many more under development.

According to Britton, Mercy’s impact in Missouri includes:

  • $95 million in uncompensated care provided in FY 2010;
  • $4.2 billion in statewide economic impact annually; and
  • Employment of 20,000 co-workers across Missouri.