The bishop said no. And anyone aware of the stance of Catholic bishops on contraception, abortion and reproductive services and end-of-life decisions might have guessed it would come to that. The Most Rev. Richard G. Lennon, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, rejected a deal for Catholic Health Partners of Cincinnati, the largest hospital network in Ohio, to gain minority ownership of Akron’s Summa Health System.
Summa has searched during the past few years for a strategic partnership to strengthen its financial and operational standing in a new health-care environment. This summer, hospital officials announced a definitive agreement for a 10-year partnership in which CHP would acquire 30 percent ownership in Summa in exchange for $250 million in cash. The deal, approved by the hospitals’ boards and the Ohio Department of Insurance, created a new entity, Community Health System, to implement the acquisition.
The deal specified, too, that Summa would not be required to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives of Catholic Health Care, the set of religious principles and values that governs the health care of Catholic institutions. At the same time, the agreement did not permit use of any CHP funds to support procedures and activities that conflict with the church directives. The local bishop is required to review such a proposed partnership to ensure that the directives would be met.
Therein lay the rub. Summa has no religious affiliation. It is Summit County’s largest employer, and it serves a diverse regional population that is not bound by Catholic values and strictures. Summa officials were aware of concerns that some services could be severely restricted or disappear as a result of the partnership with CHP. Rightly, they were unequivocal in assuring a skeptical public that policies and procedures for patient care will not be different in the partnership.
It should be to no one’s surprise that this consistent message, that Summa’s health-care practices will not be influenced by Catholic directives, was troubling to the bishop and served as the basis for denying approval. Indeed, it does appear that the partners anticipated a problem and have gone to some lengths to create another degree of separation from direct church influence. The partners indicate the deal has been restructured so that it will no longer require the bishop’s approval, or new votes by their separate boards, or another review by the insurance department. HealthSpan Partners, a secular, nonprofit auxiliary of CHP registered in July, becomes Summa’s minority owner.
Summa needs the resources, and scale, that CHP brings to the table. It also needs independence to provide the full range of health-care services to meet the needs of a diverse population.