Catholic Healthcare West restructures
January 25th, 2012
By George Raine

San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, the nation’s fifth-largest health care system, said Jan. 23 it is changing its name to Dignity Health as part of a restructuring that, it says, “will position the organization to succeed in a changing health care environment.”

Dignity said that one of the key rationales for the change is to preserve and sustain the identity and integrity of the Catholic hospitals in its system and their sponsoring congregations.

Founded as a Catholic institution in 1986, when two congregations of the Sisters of Mercy joined their 10 hospitals together, the new Dignity Health is a not-for-profit organization, rooted in Catholic tradition, but, as a result of the restructuring, no longer is an official ministry of the Catholic Church.

It will continue to own and operate both Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals which will keep their names. The mission of the hospitals – 25 Catholic and 15 non-Catholic hospitals in Arizona, California and Nevada – will be unchanged despite the corporate name change.

Locally, Dignity Health facilities include Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center, both in San Francisco, and Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City.

Dignity Health said the name change follows several years of discussion between the organization’s sponsoring religious congregations, board of directors and management about the future of health care. As Catholic Healthcare West grew, merging with non-Catholic community hospitals, questions arose about now to manage a non-Catholic entity with a Catholic entity, said George Wesolek, the director of the Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns at the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Dignity Health said that the name change is directly related to the governance restructure, adding that both the restructure and the new name give potential partners confidence that Catholic hospitals will follow the ethical and religious directives for Catholic healthcare promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops while non-Catholic hospitals will follow what is called Dignity Health’s statement of common values.

(The statement includes a list of procedures that are not performed: Abortion, assisted suicide or euthanasia and artificial reproductive procedures, including donor insemination and in vitro fertilization.)

The archdiocese’s involvement in the restructuring came about after the six communities of Catholic religious women who sponsor Dignity Health in 2011 asked Archbishop George Niederauer to consult with them about the matter. Because he is the bishop of the diocese where Dignity Health is headquartered, it was his responsibility to evaluate the proposed changes in light of the norms of Catholic moral teaching and church law.

Archbishop Niederauer, after also conferring with other bishops, the American bishops’ task force on health care and with leading Catholic moralists and authorities in church law who are expert in matters related to health care, concluded the restructuring does not conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“It is (my) hope and belief that these ministries of health care launched more than 150 years ago by heroic Catholic religious women of faith and vision and sacrifice will continue to flourish for many decades to come,” said Archbishop Niederauer.

William J. Cox, president of the Alliance of Catholic Health Care, a membership organization for California Catholic hospitals, told Catholic News Service that the “primary rationale” for the change was to bring the Catholic hospitals in the Dignity Health system “into compliance with the moral and doctrinal tenets of the church.”

Some non-Catholic hospitals in the system permitted the direct sterilization of patients, Cox said, causing problems for Catholic hospitals under the former structure.

The restructuring comes after St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix was stripped of its Catholic identity by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix because an ethics committee allowed an abortion to be performed there. The case involved a woman with pulmonary hypertension who doctors said would likely die unless her pregnancy was terminated. The hospital and the former Catholic Healthcare West have maintained that the intention was to save “the only life that could be saved.”

Cox said the St. Joseph’s situation was “not particularly related” to the restructuring of the new Dignity Health.

The board of the former Catholic Healthcare West and the sponsoring religious congregations had begun to discuss restructuring prior to the incident at the Phoenix hospital.

Lloyd H. Dean, Dignity Health’s president and CEO, said, “The new structure supports our long-term plan to grow and coordinate care, while reinforcing our mission of service to the communities we are so privileged to serve.”

From January 27, 2011 issue of Catholic San Francisco.