Health & Fitness

Mercy Health System: 128 Years Later, This Health System is a Star


With 60 specialty services and 64 state-of-the-art facilities throughout 24 communities, Mercy serves more than one million patients each year. The vertically-integrated health care system is the first in the United States to receive the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, the nation’s highest presidential honor for quality and organizational excellence.

A team of surgeons from Mercy Health System

In response to constantly-evolving needs and tremendous advancements in all medical fields, health care providers such as Mercy Health System are building on the long-term relationships they have with their communities.

Based in Janesville, Wis., Mercy began as a much-needed medical operation. Today, it not only provides patients with the basic medical care they need, but also with specialized services and advanced technology.

President and CEO Javon R. Bea looks back over the organization’s 128-year history with understandable pride.

“Mercy Hospital was founded in 1883, when Dr. Henry Palmer opened Janesville’s first hospital,” says Bea. “By 1903, the hospital had become such a busy enterprise that the physicians contacted the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago about operating the hospital for them.”
In 1907, the Sisters purchased the 30-bed Palmer Memorial Hospital and renamed it Palmer Memorial Mercy Hospital. In 1913, the name Mercy Hospital was adopted, and by 1972, control of the Mercy Charitable Corporation was transferred from the Sisters of Mercy to a self-perpetuating volunteer board of directors. But by 1989, Mercy Hospital was rapidly losing market share.

Javon R. Bea

“Area residents largely perceived it as a primary care hospital, and looked to Madison and Milwaukee for specialized care,” Bea explains. “The hospital’s volunteer board of directors then named me as the new president and CEO, and Mercy began its transformation to today’s vertically-integrated health system.”

With 60 specialty services and 64 state-of-the-art facilities throughout 24 southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois communities, Mercy’s gross revenues have increased 12-fold over the past 20 years. Today, Mercy is a not-for-profit, multi-specialty health system that serves more than one million individuals.

Since 1989, Mercy has grown from a stand-alone community hospital, with no employed physicians and no ambulatory care centers, into a comprehensive, vertically-integrated health system offering an extensive network of primary and specialty care physicians, three hospitals, subspecialty centers of excellence, insurance products, long-term care, retail services and preventive health and wellness programs. Mercy employs more than 400 physicians and nearly 4,000 staff members, who are called partners. Mercy is also the first vertically-integrated health care system in the United States to receive the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, the nation’s highest presidential honor for quality and organizational excellence.

Bea says Mercy’s commitment to providing the best possible medical care to the greater stateline area took a huge step up in 2001, when its board of directors recognized a need in the community for improved trauma care. The board passed a resolution to commit the resources necessary to treat high-level trauma patients close to home. To that end, daily 24-hour availability of multiple specialty services, enhanced equipment and trauma-trained staff have steadily been added to Mercy Hospital Janesville.

In 20 short years, Mercy has evolved from a stand-alone community hospital to a full-service medical treatment facility, offering emergency and post-traumatic care.

In December 2009, after an intensive review by a team of nationally-recognized trauma site reviewers, Mercy Hospital Janesville received Level II trauma center designation, the second-highest certification possible, from the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma.

“In October 2010, we changed the name of Mercy Hospital Janesville to Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center, to reflect the advanced level of care we now provide,” Bea says. “For the community, the trauma center designation means Mercy has staff available 24/7/365, to care for severely-injured patients. This includes certified trauma surgeons, emergency physicians, trauma-trained nurses, neurosurgeons, plastic and reconstructive surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, otolaryngologists, cardiovascular surgeons and more.”

To Mercy’s patients and their families, this means that when an accident happens, and only minutes separate life from death, Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center ensures the best possible outcome and a second chance at life.

Bea points out that in just one year, Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center’s emergency and trauma departments, combined, see close to 30,000 patients, making it the busiest center of its kind in Rock County. Over the past year, Mercy has admitted more than 500 trauma cases to its facility; more importantly, he adds, Mercy has decreased patient transfers to other trauma centers by 80 percent, keeping more local patients closer to home and loved ones.

Mercy achieved Level II trauma status through an intensive, step-by-step process. Robb Whinney, DO, board-certified trauma surgeon and medical director of Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center’s Level II Trauma Center, was brought on board in 2008, from Washington University in St. Louis, to help lead Mercy’s efforts.

“We prepared for accreditation for more than a year, then operated the unit for two years after it was up and ready, before receiving the official designation in December 2009,” Whinney says. “We needed to establish trauma coverage 24/7, not only in the emergency room, but also in all areas of specialty surgery, including neurology, orthopedics and cardiology, as well as to ensure that an emergency doctor was available at all times.”

Innovative ancillary services that complement and enhance Mercy’s Level II Trauma Center include the use of Arctic Sun technology and the SANE program.

The Arctic Sun 2000 Temperature Management System rapidly reduces a patient’s body temperature and keeps it at that level for a period of time following cardiac arrest. Studies indicate that cooling a patient’s brain improves neurological outcome. With the Arctic Sun cooling system, Mercy may prevent brain damage in some patients and increase the likelihood that a patient’s full functionality will be restored after hospital discharge.

Mercy also launched a unique program in July 2008 which connects individuals who report traumatic sexual assault to a sexual assault registered nurse examiner (SANE), who performs forensic examinations that aid effective courtroom testimony. In the process, close and caring attention is focused on the patient.

The health system has introduced many other new technologies and programs as well.

Robb Whinney

“We’ve brought unique technology, like the da Vinci dual-console robotic surgery system, to our region,” says Bea. “For area patients who’ve had the good fortune to be operated on with da Vinci, the results have been nothing short of life-changing. Our comprehensive heart care services continue to expand and excel, with initiatives such as electrophysiology, heart monitor donations to local EMS providers, Arctic Sun technology, leading-edge cardiac catheterization labs and other vital services.”

Physical changes were vital to Mercy’s receiving the elevated status, too. “We designated two large emergency rooms as trauma treatment suites and equipped them to initiate resuscitation and other related procedures,” says Lori McKibben, RN, MBA, trauma and stroke program coordinator for the Level II Trauma Centers. “All trauma nursing staff have specialized trauma training, including trauma certification. In fact, 100 percent of Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center’s emergency nursing staff is trauma-certified.”

The majority of trauma patients come in as a result of motor vehicle accidents, says McKibben. Mercy’s trauma team works closely with surrounding hospitals and trauma centers and collaborates with local emergency medical responders, including EMTs, paramedics, fire and rescue staff. Mercy is also dedicated to teaching its staff members the latest in trauma care.

“As word of our Level II designation spread, we began to receive more and more trauma patients,” McKibben says. “About 20 percent of trauma patients admitted through our center are brought in from outlying communities.” Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center now regularly treats trauma victims from Beloit, Edgerton and Fort Atkinson, in Wisconsin, as well as from Mercy’s satellite locations in Walworth, Wis., and Harvard, Ill.

In conjunction with this expanded coverage, the Mercy Regional Emergency Medical Services Training Center in Janesville has trained and recertified more than 3,100 EMTs and paramedics since it opened in 1990.

In 2009, Mercy donated $88,500 to local fire and rescue groups to purchase new advanced life support monitors, capable of performing 12-lead electrocardiograms. The monitors are linked to equipment at Mercy’s trauma center, where staff members remotely observe the patient’s condition and properly prepare for his or her arrival. The monitors allow rescue teams to quickly identify individuals showing signs of a heart attack, so they can begin to treat the patient en route to the trauma center, minimizing the damage to heart muscle and improving outcomes.

Lori McKibben, RN, MBA

Dr. Michael Kellum, board-certified emergency medicine physician at Mercy Hospital in Janesville and Mercy Walworth Hospital and Medical Center, led the effort to bring cardiocerebral resuscitation, known as “Call and Pump,” to the EMTs of Rock and Walworth counties.

“Call and Pump is CPR without the mouth-to-mouth part,” Kellum says. “When you witness someone going into sudden cardiac arrest, call 911 immediately and then do continuous chest compressions until help arrives.” Intense focus on what first responders call the “Golden Hour” is a vital element of the trauma center’s success in preventing permanent impairment or death. Stabilization prior to arrival, along with start-to-finish patient care, helps to ensure the best possible outcome.

“Since 2009, we’ve seen a significant increase in trauma admissions,” Whinney says. “What’s so important about this change is that, before our Level II designation, we routinely treated trauma patients who were then transported to other medical centers and rehabilitation facilities. Now, the patients stay here, from the moment they come in, through their rehabilitation and release.”

The positive impact this has made on patients and their families is substantial.

“Where families once may have had to drive 50 to 100 miles to be with patients, now they all stay close to home,” Whinney says. “They aren’t separated by time and distance any longer.”

In addition, says Bea, a remarkable new program, Mercy MyChart, connects Mercy patients, their important health information, and their physicians and clinic online, conveniently and confidentially, at any time.

While Mercy takes a reactive role in the survival of trauma patients through the center, it has also made a commitment to pro-active programs aimed at preventing injuries.

“Mercy implemented the ThinkFirst program as part of its Level II Trauma Center’s community education initiative,” says McKibben. “Aimed at elementary students, ThinkFirst focuses on keeping kids safe in any activity and emphasizes the importance of preventing head and spinal cord injury.”

Every year, an estimated 500,000 Americans sustain brain or spinal cord injuries, making it the leading cause of death among children and teens. Because Mercy is a strong proponent of trauma prevention for all ages, ThinkFirst, a program of the National Injury Prevention Foundation, promotes injury prevention through education, research and policy.

Dr. Michael Kellum, emergency medicine physician, serves Mercy Hospital Janesville and Mercy Walworth Hospital and Medical Center.

Mercy also introduced safety superhero mascot Street Smart, a character of the ThinkFirst program, who visits elementary schools to educate children about making good safety decisions. Street Smart attends community events and has his own Facebook page.
“We provide car safety check-ups and adaptive devices for disabled drivers,” McKibben says. “We also offer self-defense classes and babysitting training for youths ages 10 to 13, to prepare them to handle emergency situations.”

The bottom line is that Mercy is commitment to providing the finest possible medical services to the greater Janesville area, says Whinney. For this reason, Mercy Hospital has received substantial upgrades, too.

“We’ve completely renovated the hospital – every floor, room and department – to enhance comfort, convenience and care,” Bea says. “Our new 90,000-square-foot Michael Berry Clinic, part of the Sister Michael Berry Building, offers bright, spacious offices and two levels of indoor parking. Our comprehensive specialty services mean you no longer have to leave town to receive important health care such as trauma, cancer, heart, plastic and reconstructive surgery, brain and spine surgery, joint replacements and more.”

Mercy outreach programs have had a beneficial effect on the region, too.

Bea says nearly 200,000 residents were helped through flu shot and wellness clinics in 2009, underwritten by Mercy to the tune of more than $1.4 million, plus $28 million in uncompensated care and free services. Further, nearly 41,000 are enrolled in Mercy’s managed-care health insurance programs, including MercyCare Plus, MercyCare HMO, MercyCare Senior Medicare supplement and MercyCare MVP, a Medicaid HMO program.

Mercy impacts Janesville and its surrounding communities in another important way, also. It’s a major employer, with facilities in Rock, Walworth and Green counties in Wisconsin, plus McHenry, Lake and Cook counties in Illinois. It represents 2,762 full-time equivalent jobs in Rock County alone, with 2,341 of these in Janesville, making it the city’s largest single employer.

Mercy estimates that 1,200 other jobs exist to supply its facilities with goods and services, and 800 more jobs exist because of the ripple effect of its spending.

Bea offers more statistics. He estimates that Mercy’s contribution to local economies through its purchase of goods and services is $1.1 billion. He adds that every dollar Mercy spends multiplies five-fold as it moves from retailer to wholesaler to manufacturer and beyond.

So much more than the sum of its parts, Mercy offers a positive presence in the Janesville community and beyond. A keen awareness of patient needs, teamed with thoughtful investments in personnel and equipment, has positioned it well for the future. ❚

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