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Steve Pu, D.O., founding visionary of Health Literacy Media and board president, dies at 67

Updated: Jun 29, 2019

Portrait of Dr. Steve Pu smiling and wearing a coat and tie
Steve Pu, D.O., a surgeon and wound care specialist who helped found the organization that became Health Literacy Media.

By HLM Staff | June 27, 2019

Steve Pu, D.O., a general surgeon and wound care specialist who helped create the organization that would become Health Literacy Media, died on Monday at Southeast Hospital in Cape Girardeau, MO. He was 67.

Dr. Pu’s advocacy for health literacy and patient-centered health care were the central focus of his career in medicine, and he used a wide variety of ways to champion improved communication between clinicians and patients, including as an international speaker, consultant, and through his many state and national appointments. He served on professional associations in medicine and public health, on several boards of directors, and in many health care leadership positions.

“Steve loved to talk about what he called the ‘Sacred moment,’” said Catina O’Leary, President and CEO of Health Literacy Media, where Dr. Pu served as president of the board of directors. “He described–and created–that strong connection with patients and families that clinicians of all types can learn to make when they treat the whole person, and see them not just as an ailment, but a meaningful human life.”

He led a transformation in patient engagement as chief medical officer at Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center in Kennett, MO, by helping providers there embrace this ‘sacred moment’ approach. In just 2 years, the hospital doubled its patient engagement score- a critical metric for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

A longtime advocate for improving access to care in community health, particularly in rural areas, he recently led a coalition of physicians who worked to fill the gap left by the closing of Twin Rivers as part of a larger consolidation. He and his colleagues worked to ensure that immediate needs could be met, such as maternal and emergency care, while a longer-term plan would incentivize other providers to stay in Kennett. The story, with its implications for health and economics in rural communities, rose to national prominence.

“Through all his contributions to improving the clinical encounter at a really high, systems level, Steve never stopped seeing patients, and I think that made his efforts so much more real and powerful,” said O’Leary. “Steve was about helping people feel better as they get better.”

For the last decade, Dr. Pu served on the board of directors for Health Literacy Missouri, and during that time he guided the organization through its expansion into Health Literacy Media and its clinical trials communication spin-off, C3T. He was the founding board president and remained in that position until his passing.

“A few years ago, medical students at Washington University asked me to invite as a speaker a physician who I thought best embodied the traits of humanism, compassion, integrity, and downright decency,” said Will Ross, MD, MPH, associate dean for diversity at Washington University School of Medicine and HLM board member. “I invited Dr. Steve Pu; it wasn’t a difficult decision. I have known Steve since our days as board members at the Missouri Foundation for Health, and I found him to be a true advocate of patient-centered care, as well as a great friend and colleague. Steve’s belief in reaching out to our patients as partners, communicating to them in language we would use with our families, was a major impetus behind the decision to create Health Literacy Media. Steve was a humble man, giant in spirit. Only few can leave behind such a remarkable legacy. I will miss my friend.”

Steve Pu was born in Birmingham, Alabama; the son of a physician. He earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Washington University in St. Louis, and his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine. He is survived by his wife Coleen, daughter Lauren, son, Brett, and six grandchildren.

Visitation will be 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM Sunday, June 30, 2019 at the McDaniel Funeral Home in Kennett, Missouri. Funeral Services will be 3:00 PM Sunday, June 30, 2019 at the McDaniel Chapel in Kennett, Missouri.

Donations in honor of Dr. Pu can be made to:


Health Literacy Media, via Donorbox:


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