Catholic providers reinvent themselves as industry changes
CHA report stresses cooperation over consolidation
Facing a future of challenges on seemingly every front, Catholic hospitals and health systems are working to collaborate as an industry to develop their own leaders for tomorrow while providing patient-centered care that reaches far beyond the confines of acute care.
The nation’s roughly 600 Catholic hospitals, which treat one in every six U.S. inpatients, want to maintain financial viability while not compromising the faith-based legacy that has driven them to seek out pockets of poor and vulnerable residents who need access to healthcare.
Their 10-year plan for Catholic healthcare was recently laid out in a 46-page report that was a year in the making. The Vision 2020 report on the national direction of Catholic healthcare in the U.S. was published by the Catholic Health Association in a landscape of changing patient demographics, growing lay leadership and mounting financial challenges that would test even seasoned Catholic healthcare leaders.
Witness Boston, where the archdiocese has signed an agreement with a secular private equity group to sell its six-hospital system, Caritas Christi Health Care, in an $830 million deal that would allow the new owners to remove the hospitals’ Catholic identity for an additional $25 million. Or go to New York City, which saw its last Catholic hospital forced to close earlier this year because of financial pressures.
“Once they’re gone, they’ll never return,” said R.T. Neary, chairman of the Coalition to Save Catholic Health Care, a group opposed to the Caritas Christi sale. “We want to ensure that Catholic healthcare will continue. We are convinced that if it ends in the Boston area, that’s the end of it. It would simply be too difficult to start up again.”
The last time Catholic hospitals foresaw a set of challenges this daunt- ing, a steering committee coalesced in 1986 and issued the forward-looking report, A New Vision for a New Century. The report urged Catholic hospitals to merge together into health systems for strength and stability in the face of a wave of for-profit hospital activity and financial pressures. Today the three largest not-for-profit hospital owners in the country are all Catholic— Catholic Health Initiatives, Denver, has 78 hospitals today; Ascension Health, St. Louis, has 77 hospitals; and Catholic Healthcare West, San Francisco, has 41, according to Modern Healthcare’s most recent systems survey (June 7, p. 18).
This time around, the Vision 2020 steering committee saw another set of steep challenges facing the industry and urged a different tack: instead of further corporate consolidation, the committee wants Catholic hospitals to find ways to cooperate with each other in sharing best practices, pilot demonstration programs, and a Catholic leadership registry.
“In local communities across the country which are fortunate to have more than one Catholic health ministry, efforts should be made to offer services that complement one another and to work together to provide services that meet the needs of the vulnerable populations in that market,” the report says.
Mirroring the buzz in other healthcare provider circles, the report’s authors urge Catholic hospitals to embrace the notion that
Persichilli: “That’s what a vision is; it’s a hope for the future.”