South City Hospital, Previously St. Alexius, Has New Owners And A New Mission
About four miles south of the Gateway Arch, near the riverfront in south St. Louis, sits a hospital with a long and troubled history — and what its new leaders hope will be a much brighter future.
Best known for being the location of the only documented exorcism in the United States, what was formerly St. Alexius Hospital on South Broadway is now South City Hospital, with a new vision for serving the community that surrounds it.
The shift comes after the hospital’s previous ownership faced numerous lawsuits and bankruptcy in recent years.
Its new CEO, Gregory Brentano, says he and his team are committed to transforming it into a true community hospital that prioritizes the needs of its neighbors. Brentano moved from the Los Angeles area to St. Louis to take the job.
“I believed in the new ownership group,” Brentano said of his motivations. “The ownership is headed up by a gentleman by the name of Ben Klein. … He’s a man that has been closely monitoring the social justice movement that’s been occurring in the United States this past year.
“And he determined that he wanted to invest in this community to make sure that the people who live in south St. Louis would have access to high-quality, safe and effective health care, specifically for emergency room care where minutes matter the most.”
The hospital has already taken some major steps toward that end, according to South City Hospital’s vice president of nursing services, Jennifer Massey, who was hired along with about 40 other experienced nurses in November 2020. Assembling that crew was no small feat during an ongoing nursing shortage across the country.
“We were able to provide a $30,000 signing bonus to bring people over to really get this off the ground and get it moving,” Massey said. “We needed nurses, we needed highly skilled and qualified nurses, so we were rather picky with how we gave out that bonus and how we got them here. But it has been truly transformative to just the spirit here and the patient care we’re able to provide.”
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, both Brentano and Massey joined host Sarah Fenske to discuss the challenges of operating a hospital in the current health care environment as well as their high hopes for South City Hospital's future.
Brentano highlighted the fact that just last week the hospital completed the second round of COVID-19 vaccine doses for 300 St. Louis firefighters. He said those first responders have already been helpful in getting the word out in the surrounding community about the hospital’s new services and new vision.
“We want to serve this particular community, so we’re going to be developing outreach programs to address the specific needs that we have here, most importantly the mental illness situation that is really throughout the country but particularly problematic in our neighborhood,” he added. “And we’re going to be having a separate emergency room for psychiatric patients or behavioral health issues, and one for medical issues. And we believe we’ll have the only emergency room psychiatric program in the state.”
Massey noted that South City Hospital is still recruiting more nurses and still offering signing bonuses.
“We are actively hiring amazing people that really want to be a part of something awesome,” she said.
Along with the new emphasis on behavioral health as well as the delivery of high-quality care in critical cases such as heart attacks and strokes, Brentano sees the reinvigorated hospital playing an important role during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He gave one striking example of how it already has.
A man in Tennessee was turned away from a rural hospital after developing COVID-19 in late December — "the kind of patient that does not have a good outlook for surviving COVID," he said.
“The hospital there said they called almost 100 hospitals … no one would take this patient, because no one had any beds. They finally contacted us, and we said, ‘Absolutely. We’ll take this patient.’”
Seven days later, the patient walked out “perfectly healthy,” the CEO said.
“He was given a death sentence in this hospital in Tennessee, and we took care of him. And I think that’s a testament to the care that we can give here.”
Brentano added that, in addition to nurses, South City Hospital is still recruiting doctors — especially orthopedic surgeons and neurologists.
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“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.