CHW splits from church, seeks wider reach

A 2010 strategic report mentioned plans for growing nationally.

(Story updated with additional information at 3:45 p.m. ET.)

Dignity Health—the system that until Monday was known as Catholic Healthcare West—laid the groundwork for its new name and structure in a vision statement released in 2010.

The system said executives were not available for interviews after the announcement because of the demands of rolling out the new identity. The system, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the U.S., has separated from the Catholic Church under its new governance structure.

In a 2010 report called Horizon 2020, the system lists “dignity” as the first of five core values and describes an aspiration to grow beyond CHW's three-state reach into a “vibrant national healthcare system” by the end of 2020.

“We will grow our healing ministry by expanding access and market share within existing service areas, entering new service areas, and significantly expanding our community-based wellness, ambulatory and non-acute services,” the report stated.

Despite the changes, the system's 25 Catholic hospitals will remain Catholic. Under a new governance structure, the former CHW will remain a not-for-profit system rooted in Catholic tradition, but it is no longer a ministry of the Catholic Church.

Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Health Association of the United States, said Catholic systems, like all providers, face pressures to ensure better efficiency and financial stability, and this was a move in that direction: “We do not see it as separating from the church; they worked this corporate structure out in consultation with many bishops,” she wrote in an e-mailed statement.

The changes were made to enable the San Francisco-based organization to grow nationally, while “preserving the identity and integrity of both its Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals,” according to a news release (PDF). The system currently owns or operates 38 hospitals, including 15 non-Catholic hospitals.

"The new structure supports our long-term plan to grow and coordinate care, while reinforcing our mission of service to the communities we are so privileged to serve," said Lloyd Dean, president and CEO, in the release.

System officials declined further comment Monday beyond that release, citing a busy schedule unveiling the new changes, which include a new logo, to employees.

Under the new structure, the board of directors becomes the top level of governance, replacing a body known as the corporate members. That group was made up of representatives of the six sponsoring Catholic congregations in the health system. Now, a similar body called the Sponsorship Council will have direct sponsorship responsibility for just the Catholic hospitals and other Catholic facilities in the system.

In a Q&A posted to its website, Dignity Health said that like many national healthcare organizations, it is talking to potential merger and acquisition partners, but could say no more on the issue.

In 2010, a CHW Catholic hospital in Phoenix was deemed by a local bishop to be no longer part of the church because hospital ethicists in November 2009 allowed a mother of four to terminate her 11-week pregnancy after discovering she had a serious health condition.



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