An emboldened group of Roman Catholic healthcare leaders vowed last week to forge ahead together or risk failure in their fight to maintain religious not-for-profit healthcare.
Meeting at the Catholic Health Association's 81st Annual Catholic Health Assembly in San Antonio, Texas, leaders continued to assail investor-owned healthcare chains spreading across the country, although they said they are tending to the business of strengthening their own not-for-profit systems. The attendance of 1,400 was the largest in 30 years, the CHA said.
"We don't look at Columbia/HCA (Healthcare Corp.) as the bogeyman," said Patricia Cahill, chief executive officer of newly formed Catholic Health Initiatives, the $4 billion merger of three Catholic systems. "Columbia's doing its thing and we are doing our thing."
CHI, which opens its Denver headquarters July 1, will have 63 hospitals from three founding systems: Catholic Health Corp. of Omaha, Neb.; Sisters of Charity Health Care Systems, Cincinnati; and Franciscan Health System, Aston, Pa.
Catholic healthcare leaders seemed to tone down their rhetoric from last year's assembly, when CHA President and CEO John Curley told attendees they couldn't serve both "God and money." However, the message remained the same.
"We are concerned that we cannot survive the onslaught of Columbia/HCA," said Sister Ruth Marie Nickerson, president and CEO of Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, Calif. Nickerson passed the gavel as board chair to Charles Thoele, institutional trustee of St. Louis.
Last year, CHA members banned investor-owned providers from their membership. The move had an immediate impact on Cleveland-based Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System, or CSA, which closed a 50-50 deal with Columbia. The four CSA hospitals, which have assets of $438 million, are no longer tax-exempt.
For the most part, CHA members spent time during the four-day meeting building on action plans for their more than 560 hospital members designed to promote not-for-profit healthcare delivery. The plans were drawn together as a result of last October's "New Covenant Initiative," a meeting in Chicago that drew hundreds of Catholic hospital, health system and religious sponsors.
"All of us are on a pathway that we've never been on before," Curley said. "While we may not always know where we are going, we will know who we are walking with."
If Catholic health systems consolidate in their regions, they would have more than a 20% market share in 19 states, according to Fairfax, Va.-based Lewin Group. By comparison, Columbia has a 20% or better market share in just three states.
"The public at large is for you," Kevin Sexton, senior vice president of the Lewin Group, told Catholic sponsors and hospital executives. "Their hearts don't beat faster for rising healthcare stocks."