6 findings on the growth of Catholic hospitals and health systems

As of 2016, 14.5 percent of all acute care hospitals in the nation are Catholic owned or affiliated, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch.

In 2013, the two parties co-published a report describing the growth of Catholic hospitals and health systems in the U.S. and the resulting negative impact on women's ability to obtain reproductive health services at their local hospitals. They explained that Catholic hospitals operate under ethical directives that prohibit the provision of key reproductive health services, such as contraception, abortion, sterilization and infertility services.

At the time, the two parties reported that the number of Catholic owned or affiliated hospitals grew 16 percent between 2001 and 2011, while almost all other types of short-term acute care hospitals, except for-profit hospitals, declined in numbers. The report also highlighted the growth of Catholic-run health systems that each operate dozens of hospitals in multiple states. Some of this expansion, the report noted, came from mergers and affiliations with, or acquisitions of, secular community hospitals that were required to take on the Catholic ethical restrictions and end provision of key reproductive health services.

Now, a new report from the ACLU and MergerWatch has found that the trends highlighted in 2013 have continued, but with some changes. Unlike the 2013 report, this year's analysis included hospitals that are following all or some of the Catholic healthcare restrictions as a result of business partnerships with Catholic hospitals or because of an historic Catholic identity that has been maintained after sale to a non-Catholic entity.

Here are six findings from this year's report.

1. From 2001 to 2016, the number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated grew by 22 percent, while the overall number of acute care hospitals dropped by 6 percent.

2. One in every six acute care hospital beds is in a facility that is Catholic owned or affiliated.

3. In five states — Alaska, Iowa, Washington, Wisconsin and South Dakota — more than 40 percent of acute care beds are in hospitals operating under Catholic health restrictions.

4. In another five states — Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, Oregon and Kentucky — between 30 and 39 percent of the acute care beds are in facilities that are Catholic owned or affiliated.

5. There are 46 Catholic-restricted hospitals that are the sole community providers of short-term acute hospital care for people living in their geographic regions.

6. The largest Catholic health systems in the nation now control 384 hospitals, compared to 330 in 2011 and 259 in 2001.


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