St. Mary’s Healthcare Center will become part of Avera Health effective Jan. 1, 2013, as the result of an agreement reached Monday between Avera and Catholic Health Initiatives, the Colorado-based health system that includes St. Mary’s.

Avera and Catholic Health Initiatives have been discussing potential collaboration since last spring in an effort to strengthen St. Mary’s ability to more effectively serve Pierre, Gettysburg and surrounding communities.

“Looking down the road, what our leaders are seeing at CHI and Avera is that things are going to require a more integrated approach between physicians, hospitals and healthcare systems,” said Amanda Bacon, St. Mary’s Healthcare Center communications coordinator. “That’s why we entered into these discussions. This was done with the intent of really looking at the rapidly changing healthcare environment and finding a way to provide the best approach to that.”

The acquisition includes membership and sponsorship of St. Mary’s Healthcare Center, Maryhouse and ParkWood in Pierre; and Gettysburg Memorial Hospital, Oahe Manor and Oahe Villa Congregate Living Center in Gettysburg.

All employees in good standing will remain employees of the hospital and their respective facilities as St. Mary’s transfers to Avera.

Better coordinated care for patients is one result of stronger ties between physicians of Avera Medical Group Pierre and local hospitals, according to Kevin Lofton, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Health Initiatives.

This continuum of care includes hospitals and doctors working closer together, patients having follow-ups when they leave the hospital, and having local access to higher-level tertiary care, said Daryl Thuringer, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Avera Health. Thuringer added that those processes were happening before, but now they’ll be easier with both operations being Avera facilities.

“It’s not so much even our approach; it’s really something that you’re seeing across the country,” Bacon said. “We’re moving to a system of a much closer relationship between physicians and hospitals. Discharges and readmissions are a lot easier if physicians and discharge nurses are working together as a part of the same system.”

Bacon added that their goal is to make the upcoming changes unnoticeable.

“We’re working to make everything as seamless of a transition as possible,” Bacon said. “St. Mary’s and Gettysburg both had very strong healthcare systems to start with. Working with Avera like this, it gives us another way to strengthen that.”

Avera Health currently has more than 300 facilities within 100 different locations. Thuringer said that they’re very excited about becoming a stronger member of the Pierre and Gettysburg communities.

“Healthcare in central South Dakota has always been strong, and St. Mary’s and Gettysburg hospitals have always done a good job. That gives us a good, solid foundation to build on, and Avera hopes to build an even stronger healthcare network for the people in central South Dakota,” Thuringer said.

Avera and St. Mary’s are working together for a smooth transition for patients, employees and physicians, and both organizations have reviewed each system’s operational and financial performance. The transfer is subject to review and pending approval by regulatory and church authorities.

“We felt moved to continue to strengthen the ministry that St. Mary’s and Avera have,” Bacon said. “Both of these facilities have a very strong Catholic heritage, and our mission, our vision, our values are the same. That’s really going to be key moving forward. We’re going to be able to continue the good work that the sisters did when they started all of these facilities.”

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