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Catholic-Secular Hospital Deals Proliferate But Raise Tension

In the last three years, there have been roughly 20 hospital transactions in which a Catholic-sponsored facility joined with smaller, secular organizations, according to a New York Times report.

Experts say these types of deals — which were deemed rare in the past — are likely to proliferate due to the pressures of healthcare reform. Still, a significant concern for some physicians, politicians and patients is that Catholic-secular mergers could lead to the reduction of services.

After decades of offering the service, Seattle-based Swedish Health Services stopped elective abortions when it affiliated this month with Renton, Wash.-based Providence Health & Services, a Catholic system. A merger between Catholic OSF Healthcare and Rockford Health System, both located in Rockford, Ill., resulted in a special arrangement in which affiliated physicians can prescribe birth control through a separate practice.  

One health system even renovated its brand and strategy to balance both secular and religious hospitals. Catholic Healthcare West in San Francisco became Dignity Health in January, severing its formal ties with the church to align more closely with secular hospitals. It operates 25 Catholic hospitals and 15 non-Catholic hospitals, and the latter do not have to abide by Catholic health directives.

The report mentions numerous examples of Catholic-secular mergers, and the various strategies hospital systems have employed to accommodate both types of facilities. While the model seems to be on the rise, it continues to spark controversy. Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Association of the United States, said it's a "constant challenge" for Catholic hospitals to serve a broader community, and a "challenge [the association] takes very seriously," according to the report.

Related Articles on Catholic Hospitals:

Catholic Healthcare West is Now Dignity Health
Nuns or Priests Lead Only 13% of America's Catholic Health Systems
Consolidations Spur Conflict Between Hospitals and Church

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