Friday, May 30, 2008

The End of an Era

Health care in the western world has benefitted greatly over the years from the participation of the church. Almost all denominations have been active, but none more so than the Roman Catholic. Its orders of nuns have been particularly prolific in creating and operating hospitals. Nursing has been primarily a female occupation and during earlier times these Catholic orders provided a ready source of dedicated professionals to manage and staff Catholic hospitals.

Consistent with the mission of their founding orders, Catholic hospitals tended to be particularly dedicated to serving the poor, thereby making valuable contributions both to the communities in which they are located and also to medical education which, in its earlier days, depended on charity patients as the source of clinical experience for doctors in training.

But things change. Government has taken over responsibility for the financing of health care for the poor. Convent life has lost its appeal for Catholic girls. Medical education has adapted to paying patients. Hospitals have become large businesses no longer dependent on charitable financing.

Over the years, the Catholic hospitals in Boston have been consolidated into the Caritas Christi Health Care System (CCHCS), operated under the direct control of the Archdiocese of Boston. Periodic financial difficulties have brought CCHCS to the attention of Martha Coakely, the Attorney General of Massachusetts. Like most state attorney’s general, Coakely has general jurisdiction over non-profit organizations and is responsible for taking preventive action to avoid the adverse consequences of hospitals getting into financial trouble.

Attorney General Coakely concluded that the church’s control over CCHCS decisions was causing problems and asked that something be done about it.

In a brief article on the business page of its May 21, 2008 edition, The Boston Globe reported that CCHCS had been reorganized so that its board would be independent of church leadership, with the church retaining control of matters of medical ethics and sales of assets. It was further reported that Coakely had approved the changes.

It means, in essence, that the Catholic church has gone out of the hospital business in Boston.

It’s the end of an era.

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