Striving for excellence pays off — that’s the message from leadership and staff at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, which last week announced it would be entering a partnership with the Mayo Clinic, the gold standard in health care.

Christus St. Vincent was selected to join the Mayo Clinic Care Network after a rigorous, 10-month application process in which both parties examined each other to make sure the fit was right. It’s the first hospital in New Mexico to join the network, giving it exclusive rights for a 150-mile radius.

As a result, patients and medical caregivers from the Christus St. Vincent network — both the hospital and doctors’ offices — will have access to doctors and research at the Mayo Clinic, all at no extra cost to patients.

The Mayo Clinic operates facilities in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, where some of the top specialists in the country treat patients with the most complex diseases. The arrangement does not give the Mayo Clinic any ownership of Christus St. Vincent, but it does expand options for care for patients. And that’s what is so exciting about the arrangement.

For Santa Fe-area patients, being able to get a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic could make the difference in being able to stay home for treatment instead of having to travel. For doctors, nurses and others at Christus St. Vincent, being a part of the Mayo Clinic Care Network means access to training, best practices procedures and the opportunity to learn from the best — all of which they will bring back to the care they give in Santa Fe.

The Mayo Clinic Care Network, meanwhile, believes that health care providers work best in collaboration. Its 40-member network, launched in 2011, is designed to make the hard work of treating sick people more efficient and more patient-centric. Of 1,000 applicants to participate since the network started, only 40 have been accepted. That’s a sign of how rigorous the process is.

To be blunt, the Christus St. Vincent hospital of five years ago likely would not have been able to meet the Mayo organization’s high standards. The hospital had to turn things around; importantly, its leaders and staff realized there was work to be done. As hospital CEO Lillian Montoya said, joining the network builds on the work hospital staffers have accomplished to improve the operations and reputation of St. Vincent.

In February, Christus St. Vincent received a four-star rating (out of five) in overall hospital quality from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one of only six in New Mexico to do so. Incidents of “harm” — infections and the like — have decreased 70 percent in the last three years. St. Vincent leads Christus Health in safety.

This is not the same hospital it was five years ago, perhaps even two or three years ago.

Hospital administrators recognized they wanted to change the culture of care at Christus St. Vincent. They involved doctors, nurses, other frontline staffers and, really, every worker at the medical center to put quality care first. Accompanying the work on patient care were investments in the facility, including major remodeling and a new wing that opened in 2017.

The reward is not just being able to have the Mayo Clinic recognize their strides toward excellence, as exciting as that is. No, the reward for Christus St. Vincent workers of today has to be much the same as it was for those original Sisters of Charity, founders of St. Vincent Hospital back in 1865.

The four nuns who traveled from Cincinnati to Santa Fe to open the first hospital in the city took care of patients, cleaned the floors, asked for donations — they did whatever was necessary to take care of sick people. And so it is today, with a team of caregivers here in Santa Fe and access to some of the top doctors in the country through the Mayo Clinic Care Network. Patients first, whatever it takes.