Catholic Hospitals Face Myths, Mergers

By Lefevere, Patricia | National Catholic Reporter, November 20, 1998 | Go to article overview

Catholic Hospitals Face Myths, Mergers


Lefevere, Patricia, National Catholic Reporter


Discuss identity before joining partnerships, health care representatives told

Their names alone imparted a good portion of their identity: Sisters of Mercy, Daughters of Charity, Bon Secours -- sisters and dispensers of health and hospital care in the United States for more than a century. But today the hospital and health care institutions founded by these women and other religious like them stand threatened.

The threat comes not only from a marketplace that competes fiercely for patients, staff and reimbursements, but also from the fact that in a restructured health care environment, Catholic identity risks taking a back seat to bottom-line considerations.

Late last month some 60 lawyers, bishops, priests, nuns and hospital and diocesan administrators gathered at Seton Hall University's Law School here to share their concerns and see how they can survive in an era of joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions.

St. Joseph Sr. Jean de Blois told them not to wait until they are in negotiations with a potential partner to think about who they are as Catholic health care providers. Instead they should begin their discussion of self-identity now, urged de Blois, who is vice president of mission services for the St. Louis-based Catholic Health Association of the United States.

She also cautioned them not to assume that their colleagues on the negotiating team would be "intimately well versed in knowing the data of who you are and not just what you won't do." Everybody knows and has known for years what Catholic hospitals don't do, de Blois said, naming the proscriptions against abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, tubal ligation, sterilization, in vitro fertilization and other reproductive interventions.

However, too few know what an institution's hopes and dreams are; what its policies are for hiring, firing and managing employees; and how it performs clinical care. The major challenge for many working in the field is that "we don't know what it means to be Catholic in health care," de Blois said. But "when you take Catholic gospel principles and speak them in English, they're very appealing," she said. "They're not just Catholic values, they're human values."

These values include having a mutual understanding of the vulnerable and basing employee relations on trust rather than manipulation, she said.

They also encompass effective pain management and believing in the pastoral and spiritual welfare of patients as well as in their physical and psychological care.

The successful negotiator will see Catholic ethical statutes and religious directives in a positive light and will seek to expand upon them in the negotiations, de Blois said. Too often Catholic negotiators "saddle" themselves with a narrow view of Catholic identity rather than asserting "what we're about, what we expect and what we're looking for in a health care partner."

Despite being the largest private not-for-profit system in the United States -- counting some 550 hospitals in 48 states, which employ 679,000 staff members and treat more than 74 million patients yearly -- Catholic health care is still seen in a negative or fearful light by many, she said. De Blois said that in recent restructuring talks in a number of states, several "myths about who people think we are" surfaced:

* Money goes to the Vatican from earnings in the Catholic facility.

* Daily Mass is required of all employees.

* All meetings must begin with prayer.

* The prohibition against doctor-assisted suicide means that a Catholic hospital will let no patient die. …

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