IT HAS been said that controversy sometimes clouds the very question it seeks to clarify. Never has this been more true than in the media coverage sparked by the proposed partnership between St. Joseph Medical Center and Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
The controversy surrounding the discussions spawned a host of misperceptions about partnerships between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals. It also questioned the integrity of St. Joseph and other Catholic providers, doing all Catholic providers a tremendous injustice.
Weighing the benefits
Much has been made of the perceived obstacles and risks to partnerships between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals. The truth is, Catholic hospitals make excellent partners in such mergers because of their commitment to quality care and concern for the poor and under-served.
In fact, there have been many successful mergers of Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals across the country.
These partnerships are predicated on providing better service to the community, strengthening individual institutions and getting the most out of the public's investment in health care.
A well-structured partnership benefits the whole community, not just the individual institutions.
Opponents of a St. Joseph-GBMC linkage did the community a disservice by distorting the facts regarding the impact of a potential agreement on access to reproductive health services, care for dying patients and the Catholic and Ethical Directives that govern the provision of care at St. Joseph. In fact, the proposal from St. Joseph held the potential to benefit both institutions, while allowing each to remain faithful to strongly held beliefs, valued constituencies and existing services.
To set the record straight and enhance understanding of future partnerships, it is important to clarify these points:
There are many ways for Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals to be partners without having either party sacrifice its values or traditions. St. Joseph, like other Catholic hospitals, is highly committed to its Catholic identity and preserving its values.
Nonetheless, it does not expect its business partners to act as Catholic hospitals or to follow Catholic directives.
Walls of separation
Under the proposed partnership between St. Joseph and GBMC, abortions and fertility services would have been transferred to a new and separate corporation on GBMC's campus with no link to St. Joseph. Since GBMC already operates many such separate entities, it is perplexing that such a proposal generated concern among women's groups. Such arrangements have been implemented elsewhere in the country and are permissible within the tradition of the Catholic Church.
St. Joseph -- like all other Maryland hospitals -- cannot intentionally intervene to cause a patient's death.
However, like other Maryland hospitals, it may withdraw life support from a dying patient when family and medical providers deem this to be a compassionate and appropriate action because continued treatment no longer benefits the patient.
St. Joseph will continue to seek Catholic and nonsectarian business partners that share our passion for providing greater community access to high-quality, cost-efficient care. Misinformation regarding the role Catholic hospitals play in meeting the changing health care needs of our communities not only hinders productive negotiations between compatible partners, but also does our neighbors a tremendous disservice by focusing on emotion-laden misunderstandings, not facts.
The negotiations between St. Joseph and GBMC reflected two institutions of integrity coming together as equals to fashion a relationship that would have been in the best interest of the community. There is no greater shared value than caring well for people who are sick and in need. That alone is a compelling reason to give Catholic and non-Catholic partnerships a fair and rational hearing.
Carmen F. Deyesu is chairman of the board of St. Joseph Medical Center.
Pub Date: 6/25/98