How hospitals accommodate Catholic, secular care

Balancing access with religious mission

The New York Times this week examined the increasing trend of Catholic-secular hospital mergers, highlighting how organizations have changed strategies to accommodate both types of facilities.  

Rise in partnerships
According to the Times, U.S. hospitals over the past three years announced about 20 deals involving mergers or partnerships between secular and Catholic institutions.

The new alliances are partly driven by sector-wide efforts to improve operational efficiency in the wake of federal health reform and a struggling economy. Notably, small hospitals and health systems with no religious affiliation increasingly are turning to financially stable, Catholic-run hospitals.

Lisa Goldstein, who tracks not-for-profit hospitals for Moody's Investors Service, says she expects the trend to continue.

Strategies to accomodate religious affiliation
Because certain services conflict with Catholic doctrine—including contraception and sterilization—many partnering hospitals have altered their strategies to address concerns from both types of organizations.

For example, Illinois-based OSF HealthCare—a Catholic-run system—has made an arrangement that allows affiliated physicians to prescribe contraception through a separate practice. Meanwhile, Catholic Healthcare West last month ended its governing board's affiliation with the Catholic Church—and changed its name to Dignity Health—to facilitate potential partnerships with secular hospitals.

While some health industry stakeholders have expressed concern that such accommodations may limit access to care, Catholic Health Association President Sister Carol Keehan notes that Catholic facilities interpret their mission more broadly. For example, she says they strive to treat all patients with respect and provide care to the less fortunate (Abelson, Times, 2/20).

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