The Comprehensive History of SSM Health and the Regional Health Commission

SSM Health has a long and proud history that dates back to 1872, when five German sisters arrived in St. Louis from Germany. This was followed by the closure of the last remaining public hospital in St. Louis in 1997, which caused a fiscal crisis that threatened the health care safety net, which provides access to essential health care services to people who face barriers to accessing adequate, timely, affordable and ongoing health services.

In response to this crisis, Civic Progress, an organization comprised of top corporate executives from St. Louis, formed a working group to address the immediate funding crisis of the safety net. This working group recommended the creation of a Regional Health Commission (RHC), a consortium of government representatives, care providers and community members charged with developing and implementing a long-term plan to improve access and delivery of health services to the uninsured or underinsured. The RHC was able to implement the “St. Louis Model” in 2002, which closed the gap left by the closure of multiple hospitals.

This partnership diverted a portion of the state's disproportionately shared funding (DSH) to federally qualified hospitals and health centers, ensuring continued access for low-income and uninsured people in St. Louis area to primary and specialty care. The RHC has adopted a new strategic plan that builds on its previous successes and claims to have a bold vision of achieving zero health disparities. The plan calls for facilitating system-level change guided by community members who experience unfair health outcomes. In 2020, SSM Health joined forces with Alive and Well Communities (AWC) to promote health equity throughout Missouri and beyond.

This collaboration with AWC will expand RHC's reach from St. Louis to Kansas City and southeastern Missouri (“the Bootheel”), where poor health outcomes and health disparities continue to persist for Missourians. The history of SSM Health began with five German nuns who left their homeland in search of religious freedom and to do the work of God. Taking their founding sister's mission to a new continent, five sisters arrived in North America in 1874 and began to pioneer a legacy of compassionate service and care, mainly among immigrant populations. In 1986, SSM Health was established as a system of hospitals, nursing homes and health-related businesses. The medical safety net is defined as “those providers who organize and provide a significant level of health care and other related services to the uninsured, Medicaid and other vulnerable populations”.

In 2001, IHN implemented numerous programs to improve quality and access among health centers, hospitals and patients in areas of greatest need. SSM Health is currently governed by a board of directors composed of members of the SSM Ministries of Health and designated lay people. In 2020, a summit was held that was the genesis of Health Literacy Media, an organization that demystifies confusing health information and intricate messages. This summit was organized by several universities and community groups in St. Louis that came together to address serious health issues collectively.

Keisha Amici
Keisha Amici

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