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Former St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation board fights changes in board, use of funds

St. Joseph Medical Center
St. Joseph Medical Center

Board members who managed the $20 million St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation have been terminated by the company that sold the Kansas City hospital, leaving them without a say in how the foundation’s philanthropic funds will be used.

St. Louis-based Ascension Health, through its subsidiary Carondelet Health, kept the foundation assets after selling St. Joseph and St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs to Prime Healthcare.

“I can confirm that the foundation has a new board, though we won’t be divulging the names,” Nick Ragone, Ascension’s chief communications officer, said Thursday.

Since the February sale, former foundation board members for St. Joseph and a separate, much smaller St. Mary’s foundation have been trying to maintain control of the philanthropic funds, which were donated for the hospitals’ use over the years.

“We’ve been kicked out,” said former St. Joseph foundation chairman Charles Jensen, an attorney and partner in the Kansas City office of Stinson Leonard Street. “We think this is something the Missouri attorney general should be looking into.”

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said Thursday, “Our discussions with Ascension continue. We decline to comment further” because of the potential for litigation.

By law, the attorney general has the power to oversee the transfer of assets from a nonprofit to a for-profit entity. Similar oversight helped create the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the REACH Foundation after the sale of the former nonprofit Health Midwest hospitals to the for-profit HCA.

Attorney General Chris Koster previously got involved in approving the St. Joseph and St. Mary’s sale by requiring Ascension to set aside $20 million in proceeds from the sale to be used for “acute indigent medical care benefiting the general public in Kansas City.”

But former St. Joseph foundation board members quickly expressed concern that the mandated set-aside from the sale was not the same as the philanthropic funds expressly given to the hospital. They also noted that, after the sale, Ascension/Carondelet no longer owns any hospitals in the Kansas City area.

“We are concerned that the foundation funds may be diverted to reduce operating or capital costs at the three long-term care centers Ascension still has in the Kansas City area or for other operations of Ascension Health,” Jensen said. “That’s not in keeping with the purposes for which the funds were donated.”

Ragone, the Ascension spokesman, said the company’s response was that “Ascension continues to maintain a critical presence in the Kansas City area, operating three long-term care facilities as part of Ascension Health Senior Care, as well as a social services agency, Seton Center. As such, we remain wholeheartedly committed to the more than 100-year legacy of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Kansas City to provide care with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable consistent with our Catholic mission.”

Jensen said the former board hopes the attorney general’s office will help ensure that the foundation funds are used in a way that “comes closest to the purpose for which they were donated.”

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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