Noble Health shares ideas for hospital; new CEO announced

Noble Health shares ideas for hospital; new CEO announced
Amy O'Brien, incoming Noble Health CEO for the Audrain hospital, was introduced to the crowd at last week's town hall meeting. [Dana Keller]
Dave Faries

Amy O’Brien was introduced as the incoming CEO of what will be the Noble Health hospital in Mexico.

That was one bit of information provided at a town hall-style gathering of 40 invited guests at the Mexico Knights of Columbus building on Wednesday night.

Noble Health signed an asset purchase agreement with SSM Health in January to acquire St. Mary’s Hospital Audrain. The Kansas City-based company with a focus on providing rural health care expects to take over operations sometime in March.

Until then, Executive Chairman Don Peterson, President Tom Carter, Noble Health Real Estate President Drew Solomon and team will be holding a series of what they refer to as listening sessions – a forum to introduce the company, provide information on planned changes and take questions from area residents.

“I’m not arrogant enough to believe we have the answers,” Peterson told the audience. “The hospital will only work if you help us.”

But it was the introduction of O’Brien, along with news of other hires and planned upgrades that confirmed the progress Noble Health has made in just three weeks.

Peterson reported that the team was negotiating with Mexico Obstetrician Dr. Michael Jones as a first step toward hosting deliveries at the facility. Dr. Scott Dudley has been named as director of the Emergency Department.

Nine of the 10 doctors employed by SSM have agreed to let Noble Health assume their contracts. The tenth is currently tied up by an existing contract with SSM covering an office facility, but Peterson indicated they were looking at a solution.

He also revealed that Noble Health was in negotiations with two young family practitioners to set up independent practices in the area affiliated with Noble Health. These would be direct primary care operations, where patients would pay a monthly fee that covered the cost of care.

“We will make this happen,” Peterson said.

O’Brien has been serving as vice president of physician practices at Great River Health Systems in Burlington, Iowa since November 2012. Before that she was administrative director for the Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho.

She has a degree in accounting from Southeastern Louisiana University, where she also played women’s basketball. O’Brien earned a Master’s in higher education administration from the University of Central Missouri.

“Amy’s history of patient and staff engagement bode well for our community and the future of our hospital,” Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs observed.

Peterson laid out the challenges facing the hospital in Mexico, which began with the arrangement to purchase the facility.

“I can assure you that trying to finance a hospital acquisition that’s been losing money for a decade in the midst of a pandemic is challenging,” he pointed out, adding that they put together seven financial packages before one was accepted.

The goal is to provide around the clock coverage at the hospital and increase the services provided. But that will require having anesthesiologists at the ready. Adding obstetrics means providing neonatal care. The radiology department needs to be restored.

Last year Noble Health acquired the hospital in Fulton and has been in the process of turning around a facility that had fallen out of favor and on hard times.

“This is a most capable, compassionate group,” he said of health care providers and staff at the Mexico hospital. “It’s a polar opposite of what we ran into in Fulton. They were on shaky ground.”

Noble Health’s plan is to link the two hospitals to provide a full range of coverage for the region. They tried but failed to purchase the SSM facility in Jefferson City. And they will be looking to extend their reach by acquiring other hospitals in central Missouri.

“We want the facilities to have equal outcomes, equal reputations,” he explained.

Wednesday’s event was the first of a series of listening sessions. The next town hall is tentatively set for Feb. 23 in Montgomery County. The leadership group plans to visit Auxvasse, Vandalia, Perry and Paris, as well.


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