Catholic hospitals celebrate new CEO, new awards

Mark Benz

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Just a few months ago, Catholic hospitals on both sides of the state line welcomed Mark Benz, the new regional CEO of St. Joseph and St. Mary’s Medical Centers in Kansas City and Blue Springs, Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. and St. John’s Hospital in Leavenworth.

All four award-winning hospitals have been healing the sick in the region for more than a century — St. Joseph’s founded in 1874, St. Mary’s in 1909, St. John’s in 1864 and Providence in 1919 — all four were founded by orders of nuns — the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the Sisters of St. Mary and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth — and all four, retaining  their Catholic identity, are now owned by Prime Health of California.

Benz, who took over the regional leadership of the hospitals in December, describes himself as a “robustly passionate Catholic,” and views Catholic healthcare as a calling.

He brings more than 25 years of healthcare leadership experience to this position. For the previous two years, Benz served as Market CEO of Tenet Healthcare/Carondelet Health Network in Tucson, Az., a market including five hospitals/micro hospitals, ambulatory surgery and urgent care centers and a 150-member physician practice. Before that, he had served as CEO of Tenet’s St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson and Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory, NC.

Benz earned a Master of Social Work (MSW) with a concentration in Healthcare Administration and Bachelor of Social Work with a concentration in Organizational Development from Arizona State University and is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

St. Joseph’s Medical Center was recently recognized with top ratings for quality and safety by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades and Healthgrades. St. Joseph was awarded the highest five-star overall hospital ranking for its quality care performance in 2019 by CMS.  Leapfrog gave the medical center an “A” and Healthgrades presented it with awards in six categories, including naming St. Joseph Medical Center among the Top 5% in the Nation for Patient Safety.

Benz said he felt blessed to be leading St. Joseph and the three other award-winning hospitals whose accolades demonstrate that they provide the highest quality care and safety to their patients and staff.

Jodi Fincher, St. Joseph’s Medical Center CEO, has, over her career, served as a preceptor, mentor charge nurse, but as “a nurse first and foremost.” She is a Registered Nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, has a Master of Business Administration, earned and maintains her Critical Care Nursing Certification and has taught multiple specialty nursing courses.

Fincher said the philosophy of St. Joseph’s physicians, nurses and staff, is to provide the best care for the patients’ bodies, minds and spirits, the same philosophy as the founders of the hospital, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, back in 1874.

“It is a privilege to carry on the legacy of the Sisters,” Benz said. “Our mission remains consistent with theirs, to improve healthcare in our community. Saving lives is more Important than our business, it is our calling and our passion.”

Benz also works closely with Drew Grossman, MHSA, CEO of St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs; Karen Orr, MSN, MBA, CEO of Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., and Paula Ellis, DNP, CEO of St. John’s Hospital, Leavenworth, Kan.

St. Mary’s Hospital was founded in 1909, by the Sisters of St. Mary at 28th and Main Streets in Kansas City, near what is still known as Hospital Hill.  Both St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s served all those seeking care regardless of race, religious affiliation or financial situation, charity being a charism of both the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Sisters of St. Mary.

St. Joseph’s has been located at I-435 and State Line Road in South Kansas City since 1977. St. Mary’s continued in its original location, and in 1981 opened a satellite facility in Blue Springs. In 1985, the Sisters of St. Mary merged with the Sisters of St. Francis of Maryville, becoming the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, and as such, continued their operation of the two hospital sites. The hospital in Kansas City closed in 1987 and Blue Springs is home to St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Following several ownership changes, in 2015 Prime Health acquired both St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s, and agreed, through the signing of a covenant, to keep both hospitals Catholic. Prime Health already owned Providence and St. John’s and had agreed to keep them Catholic.

Dr. John Morris, PhD, has served as a consultant to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Catholic healthcare, and represents Bishop Johnston on the hospitals’ governing board.

He said it is important that the regional community recognizes that the hospitals are and will remain Catholic.

Senior hospital staff are required to have training in Catholic healthcare, he said. Not only do the hospitals care for the sick, they play a role for the benefit of their communities. St. Joseph’s, for example, in recent years has established itself as a senior care provider, “offering a service line to a vulnerable community,” Dr. Morris said.

Dr. Morris praised the leadership on St. Joseph’s Senior Suites, the dedicated beds and services for seniors only, saying they saw what was needed and are meeting that need.

“The hospitals and CEOs are living up to the community benefit expectation at the local level.”

Morris said he was very pleased to see that Prime Health stands behind the Catholicity and legacies of their religious order founders. “The founding Sisters of the three religious orders that founded all four hospitals would all be proud. And the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet would be very proud of the 5-Star rating of St. Joseph Medical Center and its grade A in safety.”

St. Mary’s has offered low-cost summer physicals for high school athletes. “Charitable work is a positive for the community,” he said, adding that under the Prime Health mantle, the hospitals, especially St. Joseph’s, are using technological and medical advances to build on the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet’s legacy for the community. Dr. Morris said the hospitals strive for proficiency in medical care and healthcare education, but their mission is service to the community, especially older adults.

Benz said he and the hospital CEOs are in the process are evaluating changes in services that will solidify the accomplishments of the hospitals.

The hospital leadership teams are working to develop strategic business plans and implement them. “The only thing constant in healthcare is change,” Benz added. “The trend nowadays is toward ambulatory services and less restrictive settings. We are looking to expand our current ambulatory service centers. We also want to continue broadening the comprehensive oncology services offered at Providence Medical Center.”

He is also looking at those physicians “who are most engaged in the service to their patients and to their hospitals. We look to build programs around those loyal physicians.”

This process will be continuous over the next several years, he said. “We are evaluating the accomplishments of 2018 and 2019 and setting goals for 2020 and beyond.”

One very important element, he and Fincher both emphasized, is the human piece. Using technology alone to interface with patients takes away from the person-to-person part of healthcare. Patients expect cutting edge treatment, Fincher said but they always remember the human touch.  “Yes indeed,” Benz said. “We can’t always cure but we can always care.” 

 Having just relocated to Kansas City in December, there were two questions that begged to be asked of Benz.

What does the white marble statue of St. Joseph that has graced both the hospital on Linwood and a central location in the medical center in south Kansas City represent to him?

“The statue represents the rich history, the present and the future of this hospital,” he said.

And has he visited any of the more than 100 barbecue restaurants in the city and, if so, which was his favorite?

Although Benz and his family had lived in Kansas City for several months, he had not yet been to any of the barbecue places. He did say that the best barbequed ribs he had ever tasted were served in the St. Joseph Medical Center’s cafeteria.


October 23, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph