Roman Catholic healthcare providers involved with investor-owned companies are hoping this week that the Catholic Health Association's membership won't ban them from the organization.
At their annual assembly this week in Minneapolis, CHA members will vote on whether to require members to "be of not-for-profit status," according to a proposed bylaw approved last fall by the CHA board.
"It will clarify the commitment of the members of the (CHA) to the essential compatibility of not-for-profit status within the mission of Catholic healthcare," said the Rev. Michael Place, an adviser to Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, leader of the Chicago Archdiocese and a member of the CHA board.
Tax-exempt status, increasingly part of healthcare debates in Washington and state capitals, is a major issue for the CHA. It's particularly important to the CHA's 570 Catholic hospital members, which account for 14% of the nation's acute-care beds and 10% of acute-care hospitals.
Hospitals such as for-profit St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha, Neb., say the CHA has had them in a holding pattern. They contend they are as Catholic as any other hospital and would like to be CHA members. St. Joseph Hospital, purchased in 1984 by investor-owned American Medical International of Dallas, is now owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp., which formed through the March merger of National Medical Enterprises and AMI.
In addition, the four hospitals of Cleveland-based Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System, or CSA, could be stripped of their membership if CSA goes through with a 50-50 ownership deal with for-profit giant Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. of Nashville, Tenn. (May 22, p. 2). Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, the system's sponsor, said that it has consulted with the CHA and that losing CHA membership would be unfortunate. The consolidation could mean all four CSA hospitals would lose their tax-exempt status.
"Our desires have never changed," said Matthew Kurs, St. Joseph's president and chief executive officer. "What the (CHA) does to (CSA) would impact us."
Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine has said CSA could become an entry point for other Catholic hospitals to link with Columbia.
In 1993 the CHA approved criteria that allowed for-profits in the organization only if they promoted Roman Catholic values, supported the CHA mission and have the approval of their local diocese. Since the change, no for-profits or for-profit subsidiaries applied.
In an effort to distance its membership from for-profit healthcare providers, the CHA board then decided its members should only be not-for-profit. Two-thirds of the full CHA membership attending this week's business meeting are needed to pass the bylaw.
Typically, 300 to 400 members attend the meeting, the CHA said.