The not-for-profit healthcare sector badly needs a champion.
In the midst of intense squabbling between the for-profit and not-for-profit hospital ownership sectors over which side does more for communities, some leaders of the not-for-profit sector defected to the investor-owned camp. Others are touting the merits of their former adversaries.
Recent events highlight the problem:
VHA, an Irving, Texas-based not-for-profit hospital alliance, has become part-owner of a new company that will help not-for-profits convert to for-profit status.
After joining VHA in a blast against the for-profit sector, SunHealth Alliance of Charlotte, N.C., decided to merge with AmHS/Premier, which under Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert O'Leary exemplifies the coexistence of for-profit and not-for-profit interests.
As detailed in our Nov. 20, 1995, cover story, not-for-profits are under growing criticism that they are failing to live up to their tax-exempt mission: providing sufficient care to the poor.
In a poll conducted for the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation late last year, Americans-by a margin of almost two to one-said for-profit hospitals are more efficient and provide better quality care than not-for-profits.
Maybe there isn't much difference between the sectors, but somebody needs to speak effectively to the vision of not-for-profit care. The Catholic Health Association is quite vocal about its opposition to Roman Catholic hospitals buddying up to for-profit chains, but after the Vatican blessed the Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. deal with Cleveland-based Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, its clout appears diminished. The Volunteer Trustees of Not-for-Profit Hospitals, though vocal, is a one-woman show composed of its president, Linda Miller. The American Hospital Association, dependent on dues from both sides of the aisle, walks a fine line to avoid alienating any "family members."
The industry increasingly is being led by visionaries who acclaim the for-profit vision. After the prophets cash out, it will remain to be seen what the healthcare industry has lost.