Bereft of partnership candidates in a consolidating market, Carney Hospital in Boston went on the selling block last week after its Roman Catholic sponsor decided the 221-bed community hospital could not continue to compete on its own.
The decision by Daughters of Charity National Health System followed a ruling by Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, that an impending merger of Carney and a neighboring public hospital did not square with ethical and religious directives of the Catholic church that prohibit procedures such as abortions.
Although the St. Louis-based Daughters of Charity system is bound by the same directives, those rules are subject to local interpretation, said Judy Weiland, a vice president of the system's East division in Baltimore.
The Catholic system had spent about a year in negotiations with Quincy (Mass.) Hospital, a municipal facility that by law must make itself available for services such as abortions, said Quincy spokeswoman Renee Buisson.
Negotiators, consulting with Catholic ethicists, had developed a corporate structure they thought would buffer Carney from that mandate, Weiland said. The Quincy City Council was all set to vote last week on the necessary state appeal for permission to change the public hospital's ownership status.
But an archdiocese statement said the cardinal "could not approve a proposal which would have Catholics cooperating in actions contrary to Catholic teaching...thus causing scandal to the faithful of the archdiocese."
Though it was an "extremely sad decision," the Catholic order accepted the cardinal's stance and rejected the proposed union, Weiland said. "Unfortunately," she added, "the Daughters cannot continue to sponsor Carney Hospital." The healthcare system's next step, she said, will be to find interested buyers. Carney has been affiliated with the order for all of its 133 years.
The archdiocese statement expressed regret that the hospital may be sold as a consequence of the cardinal's opposition, adding that Law hoped the religious order would reconsider.
"It still makes sense from a business perspective for Carney and Quincy to come together," Weiland said. But as a Catholic institution, Carney cannot co-exist with the public hospital, and its Catholic identity limits other options to find network partners, she said.
The Boston healthcare market is bunching up into regional systems, all vying for managed-care contracts in a state where HMOs control more than 40% of the market. "Our belief is, the only way to maintain financial viability is to become part of an integrated network," Weiland said.
Carney and Quincy serve overlapping areas of Boston's Dorchester neighborhood and adjacent southern suburbs, "and we've spent resources in competition with each other," Buisson said. The partnership would have broadened geographic coverage and made the hospitals more attractive candidates for healthcare contracts, she said.
It's not the first time the cardinal has scotched Carney's affiliation plans. Last year Law objected to an affiliation with Partners HealthCare System because one of its founding members, Brigham and Women's Hospital, performed abortions.
Daughters of Charity was aware of that objection but went into talks with Quincy on the premise that Brigham's situation was unique and that objections could be overcome, Weiland said. "In the end, once all the information was taken into consideration, the cardinal reached the decision he did," she said.
Ironically, Partners isn't out of the picture. Its network-building subsidiary, Partners Community HealthCare, expects to complete an affiliation this week with a group of 11 primary-care physicians who practice at Carney, Partners spokeswoman Carolyn Castel said.