First, the good news.
Catholic hospitals are the country's largest group of not-for-profit health care facilities, accounting for more than a fifth of admissions in 21 states and the District of Columbia. More than 5.5 million people were admitted to U.S. Catholic hospitals in a recent one-year period.
Compared with other health care providers, they often provide a higher percentage, according to the Catholic Health Association, of traditionally "unprofitable" public health and specialty services like addiction treatment and breast cancer screening.
And according to a recent issue of the journal Modern Healthcare, the lists of the top 10 health care systems, by revenue and hospital count, each includes three Catholic systems. Their hospital count actually has increased, and their combined revenue neared $25.5 billion in 2008.
But in the larger U.S. context, the picture is not all rosy, as our In Focus this week points out (see Pages 9-12). "There is a deliberate attempt to push the Church out of health care," says John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. "They don't like who we are and what we stand for; it's real."
Catholic beliefs on abortion, contraception, sterilization and other moral issues are challenged not just by prevailing cultural pressures, but now even by feared legislative and statutory erosions at the federal level, despite President Barack Obama's recent promise of measures that would be no less robust, of conscience protections for health care workers and facilities.
But there also are internal pressures, apparently motivated at least in part by financial considerations, to jettison the Church's clear teaching. A Texas hospital recently decided to sever its Catholic ties rather than stop performing sterilizations (as was uncovered by an award-winning Our Sunday Visitor investigative report last July).
The history of Catholic health care in the United States is a long and glorious one, starting in 1728 with a New Orleans hospital to care for the indigent. Its first incarnation -- which continued up until recent decades -- owed largely to the vibrancy of women's Religious orders dedicated to quality health care for all.
Through the hospitals, which served without distinction to race, creed or financial circumstance, these women Religious served as powerful ambassadors for the Church and of the Gospel message itself.
With the orders graying, and administration of the hospitals necessarily turned over to lay and even non-Catholic professionals, those days are gone and are unlikely to be resurrected. A Catholic hospital's identity will no longer be guaranteed by the heavy presence of nuns absolutely committed to works of mercy.
So what is the alternative? What form will the second incarnation of Catholic hospitals in the United States take?
What is needed urgently is "authentic health care reform, consistent with authentic Catholic moral and social teaching," says the executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, John Brehany.
At a time in our nation's history when systemic reform of our health care system seems an increasing likelihood, Catholic health care workers and facilities would do well also to consider a radical renewal of their commitment to their mission in society -- and that consists of much more than simply following the Church's ethical directives.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs