Declaring that providers can't serve God and money, the Catholic Health Association leadership last week successfully pushed for a ban on for-profit hospitals from the group.
"(The CHA) is not deceived by the siren call of the investor-owned chains," John Curley, president and chief executive officer of the CHA, told nearly 1,200 people attending the organization's annual assembly in Minneapolis. "Simply put, the investor-owned model is not compatible with the church's mission in healthcare. One cannot serve both God and money."
Curley's impassioned speech and the ban on for-profit chains came about three weeks after a major Roman Catholic system in Ohio announced a joint venture with Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. (May 22, p. 2). If the transaction is completed, Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System stands to lose its CHA membership.
While stepping up attacks on investor-owned healthcare companies, the CHA leadership also appeared to push consolidating with other Catholic providers as an alternative to alliances with for-profits. CHA officials told the Minneapolis meeting that they would back a summit to be held Oct. 30-31 in Chicago to encourage new ideas and strategies for Catholic ministries. The summit, which could include several hundred sponsors, system heads and other Catholic healthcare leaders, will be organized by the CHA and other Catholic organizations representing the more than 560 Catholic hospitals in the United States.
"The truth is we do not need the investor-owned chains," Curley said in his Minneapolis speech. "We need one another. You deserve to be pleased that there is a marked increase in collaborative ventures within the ministry and with other culturally compatible not-for-profits."
Some 200 CHA members were almost unanimous in a voice vote favoring a ban of for-profit organizations from their membership. During and after the vote, CHA board members asked for comments from members on the new not-for-profit status bylaw, but no one responded.
The move would, in effect, ban the four hospitals of Cleveland-based Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System, or CSA, should it go through with its 50-50 ownership deal with Columbia.
The bishops of three dioceses in which the hospitals are located have yet to approve CSA's deal with Columbia. If the deal is approved, it remains uncertain whether the hospitals would stay Catholic, analysts of Catholic healthcare say.
CSA executives didn't attend the annual meeting, according to CHA officials. However, CSA issued a statement criticizing the CHA for changing its position on for-profit membership.
"We are disappointed to see the Catholic Health Association reverse its earlier position of embracing alliances with like-minded for-profit health systems and embark on a campaign to disparage a creative partnership which has the real potential to preserve and, in fact, strengthen our longstanding Catholic healthcare ministry," said Sister Judith Ann Karam, major superior of Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, the system's sponsor.
In 1993, the CHA approved criteria that allowed for-profits in the organization if they promoted Roman Catholic values, supported the CHA mission and had the approval of their local diocese. No for-profits or for-profit subsidiaries applied.
During his Minneapolis speech, Curley, who stopped at times to compose himself, said Catholic hospitals could be flattered by for-profit chains' interest, but it "could also be construed as an insult. They believe we can be had."