Max Buetow (left), president and CEO of CoxHealth, and David Argueta (right), president of Mercy Hospitals Springfield, were the panelists for the 2023 Health Care Outlook. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Outside of cleaning each other’s dirty laundry, CoxHealth and Mercy Springfield are competitors.

After all, they are the two largest employers in Springfield. It is through competition that the two hospital groups aim to foster collaboration — in aspects of health care other than owning a laundry service together — and ultimately better the quality of health care in the community.

David Argueta, president of Mercy Hospitals Springfield, and Max Buetow, CEO of CoxHealth, emphasized the relationship between the city’s two primary hospital systems at the 2023 Springfield Business Development Corporation (SBDC) Health Care Outlook on May 17. The SBDC is the economic development arm of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

Both Argueta and Buetow took the helm of Springfield’s largest healthcare systems last year after their predecessors, Brent Hubbard and Steve Edwards, respectively, resigned and retired.

How competition breeds collaboration, benefits health care

The 2023 Health Care Outlook, featuring major industry employers CoxHealth and Mercy Hospitals, held on May 17, 2023. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Argueta and Buetow made the case that as a result of competition, their hospital systems have been pushed to new heights when it comes to improving overall care in Springfield.

“You’re going to see us duking it out in many ways in this community,” Buetow said. “But with that intentionality of preserving a very strong relationship and where we have those opportunities to coexist and collaborate and partner even in the future, you’re going to see us take advantage of that.”

Argueta, who has worked in hospital systems in Houston, Texas, and Oklahoma City, said he’s always found it important to forge relationships with colleagues “down the street,” because in health care, they have the same goals.

Max Buetow, president and CEO of CoxHealth, talks abut partnerships between the two local hospitals at the 2023 Health Care Outlook. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

“You can look at our strategic plans…they’re probably going to look pretty similar,” Argueta said.

Buetow joked that he wants to see Mercy do great things, whether that be lowering costs, introducing new technologies or attracting physicians, but he wants to do them with a “plus sign” at CoxHealth.

However, Buetow emphasized he doesn’t want the competition to come as a shock to Mercy.

“I don’t ever want to have a ‘gotcha,’” Buetow said. “We won’t surprise each other with something that’s coming out.”

Ever since their first meeting over pizza at The Big Slice, the two health system leaders regularly meet to discuss what they’re doing together, and what they’re not doing together. Collaboration doesn’t just help them assess what they need for their own hospitals, but what the community needs and what the modern consumer — and employee — expects.

CoxHealth and Mercy work to provide personalized experience for staff and customers

As consumer needs and expectations in health care have changed in recent years, so have those of the workforce, which has been a precursor of competition and collaboration between CoxHealth and Mercy.

Argueta said a more “informed, active and patient” consumer is forcing hospitals to think about how to make access to health care seamless.

“People want to access health care the way they want it,” Argueta said.

For example, Buetow admitted CoxHealth hasn’t always done the best job with the billing process. Even if they’re able to provide exceptional care in the exam room, receiving a bill is also a part of the health care experience that modern consumers have higher expectations for.

David Argueta, president of Mercy Hospitals Springfield, talks about staff providing a high level of medical care at the 2023 Health Care Outlook. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

“I think that pressure is honestly really good for our industry,” he said.

Expectations differ between patients, as some may want to undergo the entire process on a smartphone app, whereas others want to receive mail and speak to someone on the phone.

The diverse needs of patients are addressed by a workforce that has diverse needs of its own.

“Never before have we had five or six generations working together, and each of them want a different thing,” said Amanda Hedgpeth, the chief operating officer at CoxHealth, who moderated the discussion between the two leaders. 

The competition to attract and retain talent led the two Springfield health care systems to collaboration, too. 

“Unfortunately, the design of all of our health systems today is we’re dividing the talent level between our two organizations when it’s almost impossible for us to keep a level of competency in our clinical teams — our physicians, our nurses — at both institutions,” Buetow said.

In order to effectively serve the needs of the community, Buetow said Springfield needs three pediatric general surgeons, which he described as “zebra unicorns” to illustrate their rarity. If Mercy is recruiting three and CoxHealth is recruiting three, potential candidates will find opportunities elsewhere.

Argueta and Buetow have begun having conversations about how to fill their needs and attract talent not just to their individual hospitals, but to Springfield.

Need for collaboration stretches beyond hospitals

Argueta explained how collaboration begins well before any collective efforts of CoxHealth and Mercy are even possible, and extends beyond the two hospital systems.

Other health organizations, including the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, Burrell Behavioral Health and the Jordan Valley Community Health Center, to name a few, join CoxHealth and Mercy in determining what the needs and the priorities of Springfield are in the Community Health Needs Assessment. Meanwhile, workforce needs can be met through partnerships with colleges and universities.

Outside of health care, Buetow challenged the Springfield community to pursue the same level of collaboration.

“I think we have to accept the challenge as individuals in this room to think more broadly of what we think we do know or where we can go into the future…There’s more we can do collectively than we can do individually,” Buetow said.

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee