The sponsorship of SSM Health Care will be transferred to a new body from the Franciscan Sisters of Mary because the nuns in the congregation are aging and their leadership roles in the St. Louis-based system are waning.
The new sponsoring body, SSM Health Ministries, will be responsible for protecting SSM's Roman Catholic identity and serve as its liaison to the Vatican, according to a news release. Its six members will also serve on SSM's board of directors.
The transfer comes two years after St. Louis-based SSM's longtime CEO, Sister Mary Jean Ryan, stepped down from the role she had held for 25 years. Her retirement further reduced the number of Catholic nuns running U.S. health systems.
The Franciscan Sisters of Mary founded the now 15-hospital system, but they are getting older, and the number of nuns serving in healthcare leadership roles has been steadily decreasing.
“There will come a time when there will be no one to take over the responsibility,” said Sandy Ashby, a spokeswoman for the congregation. “As they age, they have no one to step into their footsteps.”
The new sponsoring body will include three lay people as well as three representatives from Franciscan Sisters of Mary.
SSM, meanwhile, has been expanding. This year, the system added both Dean Health System, a large multispecialty physician group and health plan based in Wisconsin, and Audrain Medical Center in Mexico, Mo.
An SSM spokesman said the sponsorship transfer does not signal a change in strategy for the system, as was the case with San Francisco-based Dignity Health.