Health care giant Mercy will spend $2.4 billion in capital investments over the next eight years in the St. Louis area, with the nation's first virtual care hub in Chesterfield.
"It's about vision," said Mercy President and CEO Lynn Britton. "We are poised to be the virtual gateway to the West."
Mercy's new master plan also included a hospital and clinics for St. Charles County, Mercy officials said Tuesday in an announcement from the Edward Jones Atrium in Des Peres.
Mercy will spend $3.6 billion statewide in expansion into areas they previously have not served in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Officials said ground-breaking on the Chesterfield Virtual Care Center would likely take place within the next six months.
The location in was described as Clarkson Road at Highway 40/64, near the . Clarification was expected soon.
Britton said a St. Charles County leader isn't involved in the plans, but will be soon.
Along with the hospital, Mercy has plans for four new facilities in the County. One will be a multi-specialty center, and one will focus on urgent care.
None of the proposed buildings have locations. Britton told the Post-Dispatch that in some cases Mercy owns the land and in others it does not. He said Mercy wants to expand into St. Charles County because of the county's remarkable growth.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon flew in for the two-hour unveiling of its investment plan, commending Mercy (formerly St. John's Mercy) for its dedicated efforts after the Joplin tornado, and its additional $1 billion pledge to rebuild its regional medical facilities there.
Mercy's Joplin hospital took a direct hit from an EH-5 tornado May 22.
The proposed Chesterfield Virtual Care hub would be a high-tech center connecting Mercy patients across the four-state region with specialists, medical opinions and treatment through video and audio communication—facilitated through computer technology. It's called telemedicine.
Britton described a scenario where a rural Missouri man had a stroke, local paramedics linked into Mercy's "Telestroke" system of virtual care, information is relayed to a stroke specialist in Arkansas, and by the time the patient arrives at the hospital, he's already received a clot-busting drug on the doctor's advice. He's talking, and walking home two weeks later.
This is the sort of long-distance treatment—telemedicine—that would be coordinated through the proposed Chesterfield hub.
No patients would be housed at the Virtual Care Center. Case managers, nurses and doctors would be part of the mix.
Britton described another instance of how telemedicine works.
Parents suspect their screaming toddler has an ear infection about 7 p.m. With a scope attached to an iPhone, parents take a photo of the child's ear, and send it to the Virtual Care Center for diagnosis. On-call doctors send a prescription to a local pharmacy for the young patient. Treatment is started within the hour, without a trip to an emergency room, which may or may not be nearby.
Mercy already has a telemedicine program called SafeWatch. Nurses and doctors remotely monitor patients in intensive care units, in addition to staff in the unit.
Britton said mortality dropped 20 percent in these ICUs, patient stays were shorter, and millions of dollars in treatment costs were avoided.
Gov. Nixon called Mercy's investment plans "truly impressive." Some 400 jobs would result from the investment in the St. Louis area, officials said. He said Mercy was "a bright beacon of resolute hope."
Mercy's master plan for the next eight years came about after a series of 28 roundtable meetings with communities across four states in 2010, surveying their needs.
Britton said healthy kids, more doctors and technology use were key components. He said the $4.6 billion Missouri plan incorporated these.
"This makes Missouri an example of what can work in health care," Britton said.