The leader of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland still is deciding whether to give his blessing to a proposed partnership between Catholic Health Partners and Summa Health System.
Bishop Richard Lennon is evaluating whether the $250 million deal giving Catholic Health Partners (CHP) a 30 percent ownership stake in the Akron-area health system adheres to Catholic teaching and church beliefs, Robert Tayek, director of media and public relations for the diocese, said this week.
The definitive agreement outlining the details of the 10-year deal was approved by both organizations’ boards in late June.
Tayek said it’s customary to consult the local bishop and request his approval any time a Catholic entity enters into a new venture with a non-Catholic organization.
“It’s the expectation,” he said. “That’s something that comes straight from the Vatican.”
Lennon wasn’t asked to participate in the process until the definitive agreement already was complete, Tayek said.
“The bishop would have preferred to be included earlier in the conversation so he could have studied all aspects of this before they made this conclusive announcement that an agreement had been made,” Tayek said. “It came late in the process, and that’s made it, in a way, more difficult.”
CHP spokeswoman Liz Vogel said the Cincinnati-based hospital system regrets not including the bishop earlier in the conversation.
“We’re really appreciative for the fact that he’s taking the time to give it a thorough review,” she said. “We respect the process, and we respect the bishop. ... We’re grateful to him for taking the time and making the commitment that he’s made to it.”
The bishop is consulting with theologians and the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia for help with his review, Tayek said.
The agreement specifies that Summa won’t be required to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) for Catholic Health Care, the doctrine followed by all Catholic-sponsored hospitals.
Summa officials have insisted the health system will continue to offer the same services after the partnership is finalized.
Under the terms of a separate “Statement of Common Values” with CHP, Summa can’t perform “direct abortions” or withhold nutrition or hydration to hasten death.
According to the definitive agreement, CHP can’t ban Summa facilities from providing tubal ligations, vasectomies and prescriptions for contraceptive drugs and devices — all services in conflict with the Catholic church.
However, the definitive agreement states “no portion of the CHP investment will be used to support any procedures or activities of Summa operated facilities that conflict with the Catholic ERDs, nor will CHP provide management services or support for, or otherwise be connected to, or financially benefit from, such procedures.”
“What comes into play is the issue of church teaching,” Tayek said. “That runs the gamut. We’re not only talking about abortion. There are a lot of things. Palliative care, sterilization and contraception are all elements that are being reviewed here.”
Vogel said CHP is “comfortable and confident that the agreement is aligned with Catholic teachings.”
Although the deal hasn’t been officially finalized, the organizations already have started working together to improve Summa’s performance in the areas of billing, supply costs, labor productivity and average length of stay for hospitalizations.
Tayek said no timeline has been set for Lennon to reach a decision.
But the bishop “understands the important nature of this as it relates to Summa and the effect on Akron and Summit County,” Tayek added.
Along with being the Akron area’s biggest hospital system, Summa is Summit County’s largest employer, with more than 11,000 workers if partially owned and affiliated ventures are included.
“It’s a major deal,” Tayek said. “That’s a priority, too, knowing what’s at stake here.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.