SSM Health Care traces its roots to 1872, when Mother Mary Odilia Berger and four other sisters came to St. Louis from Germany, after caring for sick and wounded soldiers during the Franco-Prussian War. Facing religious persecution in Germany, they came to the United States for two reasons: to preserve their call to live in religious community and to be of service to people in need. When they arrived in St. Louis on November 16, 1872, they had but $5 among them, and they began providing nursing care to people in their own homes. That winter, when a smallpox epidemic hit St. Louis, the sisters cared for the sick and dying. For a short time, people referred to them as the Smallpox Sisters. In 1874, the congregation received its formal name: the Sisters of St. Mary (SSM). They were so named because their convent shared a door with St. Mary of Victories Church in downtown St. Louis.
In 1877, the Sisters borrowed the then enormous sum of $16,000 to open their first hospital -- St. Mary's Infirmary -- just southwest of today's downtown St. Louis. The following year, when yellow fever broke out in Canton, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee, Mother Odilia sent 13 sisters – more than one-third of the congregation at the time -- to care for the sick. Of those, five sisters died, all of them under 30. In 1880, just days after the congregation that she founded received official recognition from the Catholic Church, Mother Odilia died.
In 1894, seven sisters, led by Sister Mary Augustine Giesen, organized themselves as a separate religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Francis of Maryville, Missouri (OSF). They gave special attention to health care in rural areas, and, in 1898, established St. Anthony Hospital, the first hospital in the Oklahoma Territory. In 1987, the Sisters of St. Mary and the Sisters of St. Francis reunited to form a new religious congregation: the Franciscan Sisters of Mary (FSM). The congregation sponsors SSM Health Care to this day.
Prior to 1985, most of the health care facilities that today belong to SSM Health Care were part of a group of hospitals owned by the Sisters and centrally governed, but not centrally managed. In the mid-1980s, the sponsoring congregation decided to reorganize its hospitals into a system of centrally managed health care providers, and SSM Health Care was created. The system is managed by a team of professionals -- both lay and religious -- and governed by members of the sponsoring congregation as well as by laypersons from the communities served by its facilities.
In 1986, Sr. Mary Jean Ryan, FSM, became the first President/CEO of SSM Health Care. Her administration has focused on three key themes: constant improvement through continuous quality improvement, nonviolence as expressed through preservation of the earth’s resources, and diversity. In 1999, following a year-long process that involved nearly 3,000 employees at every level of the organization and at every facility, SSM Health Care adopted a single 13-word mission statement for the entire system: “Through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing presence of God.” Accompanying that mission are five values the organization holds dear: Compassion, Respect, Excellence, Stewardship, Community.
Today, SSMHC spans four states -- Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oklahoma – and includes four health networks -- SSMHC of Oklahoma, SSMHC of St. Louis, SSMHC of Wisconsin and St. Mary's-Good Samaritan, Inc. (southern Illinois). The system has 20 hospitals, two nursing homes, rehab, home care, an information center and a host of additional health-related services. Nearly 5,000 affiliated physicians, 24,000 employees and 5,000 volunteers work together to provide exceptional health care services.
In 2002, SSM Health Care became the first health care organization in history to receive the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest award for quality.