For the first time, the Catholic Health Association has released a snapshot of how Roman Catholic providers are putting the teachings of the church into practice.
The CHA released the report last week at its annual meeting in San Francisco.
As part of its ongoing benchmarking project, the CHA collected data to measure hospitals' performance on seven elements associated with Catholic identity. Those elements included care of the poor, stewardship of financial resources and how providers communicate with the church.
"This helps say to others, we are not just what we don't do; we are about commitments," said the Rev. Michael Place, president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis-based CHA, which represents 2,000 healthcare systems, health plans and religious sponsors.
Place was referring to criticism about reproductive services, such as tubal ligations and vasectomies, that can be lost following the merger of Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals (See story, p. 12).
This first phase of the benchmarking project was based on responses from 239 hospitals, or 36% of the CHA's acute-care-facility membership. The responding hospitals were both independents and system members.
The benchmarking project is an attempt by the CHA to help quantify what it means to be Catholic in healthcare. It also will identify successful practices within Catholic healthcare and provide measures for ongoing performance improvement.
One of the measures the CHA reviewed was care for the poor and vulnerable as expressed by unreimbursed charity care.
A total of 216 hospitals supplied data about their charity care. It showed that on average such care accounted for 3.8% of their total operating expenses.
Charity care was defined as free or discounted care provided to someone who cannot afford to pay. It did not include bad debt.
Twenty-nine Catholic hospitals reported that charity care amounted to more than 7% of their total operating expenses. A larger number--35 hospitals--said they provided charity care equal to less than 1% of their operating expenses.
However, the greatest number of hospitals--61--said they provided between 1% and 1.9% of their operating expenses in charity care.
Place called the amount of charity care "remarkable," given reimbursement changes mandated by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
Because a hospital's ability to care for the poor is linked to its financial viability, the CHA also looked at hospital earnings.
A total of 201 hospitals reported earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes and amortization. The average was 12% of total income.
Other benchmarking measures found:
* The vast majority of patients who died at Catholic healthcare facilities received supportive services, such as pastoral, palliative or hospice care.
* An average of 18% of physicians with privileges at Catholic hospitals took part in educational programs on church teachings.
* On average, Catholic healthcare leaders met with their local church leaders about seven times a year.