A Roman Catholic healthcare system dumped all the community trustees of an Ohio hospital, reportedly after those board members voiced concern about a proposed deal with Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.
The Cleveland-based Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System took the action less than 24 hours before announcing the 50-50 joint venture with Columbia (May 22, p. 2). The agreement marks Columbia's first major partnership with a Catholic system and comes at a time when the Catholic Church is split over the issue of dealing with for-profit groups.
The dismissal of the 12 community trustees occurred at 426-bed Timken Mercy Medical Center in Canton, Ohio, one of four hospitals of Sisters of Mercy of St. Augustine Health System, or CSA, involved in the Columbia deal. Boards at the other hospitals weren't changed.
The Columbia deal was announced May 17, and the 12 Timken community trustees received their dismissal letters, dated May 16, on May 18.
"There is significant concern about the move," Robert Rownd, former chairman of the hospital board, told MODERN HEALTHCARE. "I think the community is greatly distressed about the removal of its community trustees."
A spokeswoman for CSA said the board was dismissed after voicing objection to the process of moving toward the partnership. She would not specify the nature of that objection.
However, a written statement issued by CSA on May 18 said, in part, "The CSA health system made these changes after it determined that the restructuring of the board of trustees was necessary to facilitate the deliberative and thoughtful analysis of alternative structures for its network of Catholic hospitals and its healthcare ministry."
Rownd said the former board members had expressed to CSA their concerns about doing business with Columbia, the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain.
Only four members from the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and President and Chief Executive Officer Peter Reibold were left on the board.
Late last week Columbia Vice Chairman Thomas Frist, M.D., and Reibold were meeting with Timken physicians to calm uneasiness about the deal.
Columbia also has agreed to put a medical ethics expert on its 17-member board. The company hopes the gesture might help allay fear of for-profit sys-tems. Although the chain has signed mergers with other not-for-profit systems, none has gained a seat on the chain's board. Such a directorship would have to be approved by Columbia's shareholders.
In a related development, Columbia and Cain Brothers & Co., a New York-based financial consulting firm that assisted CSA in the deal with Columbia, also have agreed to fund an endowment of $1 million to $1.5 million for a chair in medical ethics at a major university yet to be selected. The professor who holds that chair also may be a candidate for the Columbia board seat, officials said.
An ethics expert would add a new flavor to Columbia's board, which now is dominated by business executives. For example, six directors are associated with banking or investment firms.