Mercy and Patients First are now united in providing health care services in this area.

July 1 is the effective date of the merger. After months of negotiations, final documents were signed Thursday that unite the two health care providers.

Patients First, which includes 77 physicians, 550 co-workers, and 20 medical offices in six counties, with its headquarters in Washington, is now part of Mercy, which is the sixth largest Catholic health care system in the United States.

Officials of both institutions said the partnership “enables greater access and better coordination of care, close to home, for patients throughout Franklin and adjoining counties.”

“If a few years ago you would have told me Patients First and Mercy would become one organization, I would not have believed it, but conversation has the power to heal,” said David Chalk, MD, former chair of Patients First and current president of a new division of Mercy Clinic in Franklin County and the surrounding areas. “We worked out a plan and a partnership, and I believe together we will provide better care for our patients.”

“We knew that Mercy and Patients First had something special to offer each other by combining our physicians, services and locations, and working together was what the community wanted,” said Donn Sorensen, president of Mercy’s east Missouri region. “Now we have more physicians in more areas to serve patients, and those physicians and patients have access to more services.”

New Division

Through the merger, Mercy has created a new division of Mercy Clinic to combine the 33 existing Mercy Clinic physicians, co-workers and offices in the Franklin County area with the Patients First physicians, employees and offices, located across 18 communities. Some Patients First services, such as the outpatient surgery center, heart center and diagnostic center, will operate as part of Mercy Hospital Washington.

“Mercy Hospital Washington is excited to add Patients First services to our growing list of innovative hospital offerings,” said Terri McLain, president of Mercy Hospital Washington. “The partnership allows us to extend our services to more patients across our region, and provides the opportunity to better link caregivers and patients in rural communities.”

As part of a regional health system, Mercy in Washington offers access to health care innovations such as an electronic health record system and telemedicine services. Telemedicine brings medical specialists into patient rooms in rural areas via video technology, linking caregivers and patients to services such as neurology for stroke victims to specialized radiology for high-risk imaging needs. Mercy also offers shared services throughout the system that ultimately lower health care costs while improving care, such as Mercy’s independently owned supply chain division. Because Mercy operates the delivery of its own supplies, life-saving items can be rerouted or rescheduled on a moment’s notice to patients whenever there is a need.


Patients First, established in 1998, has experienced remarkable growth and earned many awards, including Patient-Centered Medical Home Level 3 recognition for all of its 17 primary care locations from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), $1.3 million in incentives from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for demonstrating meaningful use of electronic medical records (EMRs) and acknowledgement from the Missouri Health Information Technology (MO HIT) assistance center for leadership in the nation’s transition toward an electronically-enabled health care system, the news release said.

Last August, in the midst of health care reform and economic uncertainties, Patients First began looking into partnership opportunities with other area health care systems. In April, it entered into exclusive negotiations with Mercy.

“We at Mercy couldn’t be more delighted to be working with Patients First physicians and co-workers as a united team,” said Sorensen. “Individually, both organizations have served the community well. Together, we are in a great position to address the needs of our patients and the region as a whole, and to respond to the changes that health care reform will bring.”

July 1 is being called “Day One of Team One,” although many acknowledge that it’s also a return to a time when Mercy and Patients First worked together more closely. “For a lot of us, this is like coming home again, to where our founding physicians started,” said Dr. Chalk, who joined the medical staff at Mercy Hospital Washington in 1991 and Patients First in 2001. “The difference between then and now is that we agree on where we want health care to be and where it should go. It’s really a historic time for health care in our community. I’m privileged to be shaping this new partnership.”