Is There a Common Ground? Affiliations Between Catholic and Non-Catholic Health Care Providers and

3. The Affiliation Process and the Role of Reproductive Health Services in the case studies

The four case studies conducted for this project provide insight into the affiliation process between Catholic and non-Catholic health care providers and the role of reproductive health services in the process. The four successfully negotiated affiliations studied included an acquisition, a merger, a consolidation, and a 50/50 joint venture. (See Figure 1 for a summary of the contextual, organizational, and affiliation attributes of the four case studies, and Appendix C for the case study reports.) In case A, a non-sectarian not-for-profit hospital that was part of a large not-for-profit system acquired a financially stressed Catholic hospital of smaller size, which now operates as a non-sectarian hospital. In case B, a large academic medical center merged with a small, financially stressed Catholic hospital a few miles away as part of a strategy to form a non-sectarian integrated delivery system. In case C, a consolidation between two competing religious hospitals of similar size – one Catholic, one Protestant – formed a non-sectarian not-for-profit medical center. In case D, a 50/50 joint venture occurred between a large regional Catholic hospital system and a medium-sized, financially stressed public/district hospital, which did not assume a Catholic identity following the affiliation. None of the cases involved a non-sectarian organization adopting Catholic identity or agreeing to abide by the Directives.

A. Factors Motivating the Case Study Affiliations

The case studies illustrate that the prominence of market forces, including threats to financial viability, was a key factor driving organizations with disparate values and missions (including different religious traditions) to seek to accomodate their different commitments in affiliation agreements. A number of important factors motivating affiliations between Catholic and non-Catholic providers were identified. Key informants in all sites reported that a variety of market factors motivated the decision to affiliate, and they articulated these motivations in terms of improved access to capital, reduced duplication of services, economies of scale, and greater market power. In two cases, the survival of the Catholic partner was at stake due to financial problems.

In general, cases B, C, and D reported that the actual or anticipated increase in managed care penetration in local markets was an important factor motivating the decision to affiliate. All three of these cases also cited the impending financial challenges posed by the shift toward capitated payments for health care services under managed care arrangements as an important factor. The partners to the affiliation in case A, however, did not report that the growth of managed care was a primary motivator. In that case, the most important motivator for the Catholic provider was the need to ensure the survival of the Catholic hospital; the non-Catholic hospital, on the other hand, was primarily motivated to affiliate by the need to increase its market share.

In addition to case A, hospital survival was an important motivator in cases B and D. Both the Catholic facility in case B and the district hospital in case D were struggling financially due to a declining census and operating inefficiencies. The hospitals had begun to close clinical departments and lay off staff in an attempt to reduce their deficits. Concern about possible closures and the consequent loss of inpatient and emergency services to the surrounding communities prompted the hospitals to seek affiliation.

As in case A, case B informants reported that the goal of increasing market share was an important factor motivating the decision to affiliate. In case A, the non-Catholic hospital had established a number of ambulatory care sites (primary care centers) in surrounding communities that provided referrals to the hospital. One center was actually opened in the Catholic hospital’s service area. Acquiring the Catholic facility was therefore part of a larger strategy to strengthen the non-Catholic hospital’s position as a major provider. As for case B, the merger of the two hospitals was part of a larger integration that involved a medical school and a physician group practice, with the goal of forming the only integrated system in the area.

B.The Role of Reproductive Health Services Issues in the Affiliation Process

The case studies illustrate that ethical and religious concerns about reproductive health services are important issues in affiliations between Catholic and non-Catholic providers, that the abortion issue has the potential to derail affiliations, and that there are various strategies for dealing with reproductive issues in the affiliation negotiation process. The historical context of affiliation agreements, the financial status of the Catholic party, the pre-affiliation status of reproductive services in the affiliating organizations, and the community context were all factors that affected the role of reproductive health services in the affiliation process. We found no simple relationship between the type of affiliation and the nature of decisions about reproductive health services. There is evidence in all cases that both theological considerations and market forces affected how affiliations were negotiated and how reproductive issues played out.

Theological considerations necessarily inform affiliation arrangements involving Catholic health care facilities. Although the document specifically guiding the provision of health care in Catholic institutions is the Directives, this document presupposes an earlier statement by the United States Catholic Bishops (NCCB 1981). In these documents, the Bishops identify the dignity of the human person, the biblical mandate to care for the poor, contribution to the common good, the responsible stewardship of resources, and conscience as the normative principles that inform the church’s healing ministry. These principles not only support the church’s position on reproductive services, but also its position on humane care for the dying and the proscription of euthanasia. More broadly, these principles support the church’s commitment to social justice, which entails the view that health care is a fundamental right of all persons and that Catholic health care should distinguish itself by service to, and advocacy for, the poor and vulnerable. Social justice and concern for the common good entail that limited health care resources be used wisely and that employees in Catholic facilities be treated with respect and justice. It is therefore important to note that theological considerations not related to reproductive health services also may be explicitly introduced in affiliation arrangements.

In two of the case studies (A and C), earlier attempts at affiliation had failed because of differences over abortion, and this historical context provided the basis for strategies to deal with proscribed services in the second, ultimately completed, affiliation attempts. In case A, the first affiliation attempt (a proposed merger) in the early 1990s was abandoned because the system under which the non-Catholic hospital operated provided abortions at one of its other hospitals. The Catholic hospital believed that the Directives prohibited a merger under these circumstances. By the mid-1990s, however, the financial instability of the Catholic hospital was such that it could no longer survive as an independent provider. The decision by the Catholic hospital’s governing board to sell its facility to the non-Catholic hospital (rather than to merge) was driven by the need to avoid conflict over the provision of abortion that emerged during the first attempt. The board decided that the continuation of hospital services to the community took precedence over maintaining a Catholic presence. As part of the acquisition agreement, the Catholic facility would no longer retain its identity as Catholic and, accordingly, would cease to operate under the Directives. However, the non-Catholic hospital agreed in writing that no “life-terminating procedures” – including abortion, euthanasia, or assisted suicide – would be provided on the former Catholic campus.

In case C, an earlier affiliation attempt had been made in the 1970s; over a three-year period, the two hospital governing boards pursued plans for a merger, but it was only at the end of this period that the plans were communicated to the public (which then protested the merger, largely on the basis of anti-abortion sentiments) and to the religious order overseeing the Catholic hospital. Given that the Protestant hospital provided abortions, the Catholic Diocese could not authorize merger, and the affiliations plans were abandoned at considerable cost to both parties. Because of the role that abortion had played in defeating the earlier affiliation attempt, the decision was made in the 1990s to defer the abortion question to the governing board of the post-consolidation, non-sectarian medical center. Members of the two existing governing boards felt strongly that, for the benefit of the community, religious ideology should not be allowed to derail the consolidation. Contraceptive and sterilization services were not an issue for the governing boards in the affiliation process because these services had been provided at both institutions prior to affiliation. After consolidation, the new governing board voted to discontinue abortions (except to save the life of the woman) at the former Protestant hospital. This decision was supported by vocal segments of the community.

In case B, the prospects for survival of the Catholic hospital and the pre-affiliation status of reproductive services in the partnering hospitals were the key factors that shaped the role of reproductive services in the affiliation process. The merger in case B was the first affiliation attempt between the parties. In this case, the CEO of the Catholic hospital, the local Bishop, and the order of Sisters sponsoring the Catholic hospital recognized that marketplace changes and a declining census threatened the survival of the 83-bed hospital, which provided no obstetrical or related services. In addition, they recognized that increased competition between their hospital and the nearby academic medical center represented poor stewardship of community resources. The governing board of the Catholic hospital agreed that the alleviation of financial pressures and the means of responsible stewardship lay in a merger agreement with the academic medical center to form a new, non-sectarian, not-for-profit integrated delivery system. As part of the merger agreement, it was decided that the former Catholic campus would continue to operate under the Directives; in effect, this meant that no services in conflict with Catholic values would be offered on that campus. The Directives, however, would not apply on the medical center campus, where obstetrical, gynecological, contraceptive, sterilization, and infertility workups and treatments would continue to be provided. Because the medical center would continue its practice of providing only medically indicated second-trimester abortions, rather than elective abortions, the Bishop supported the merger agreement.

In case D, the community context shaped the role that reproductive health services played in the affiliation process. At the early stages of negotiation between the district hospital and the Catholic system, reproductive issues were a lightening rod for opposition by local reproductive rights groups, hospital physicians, and community members who feared that partnership with a Catholic health system would mean a loss of reproductive services in the district hospital. Through a series of public meetings, representatives of the Catholic system and of the district hospital governing board made it clear that under the conditions of the 50/50 joint venture, the district hospital would not assume a Catholic identity and would not operate under the Directives. With the exception of abortion services, which were readily available at neighboring hospitals and clinics and which had rarely been provided at the district hospital, all other reproductive services would continue to be offered at the district hospital following the affiliation.

A key element in the affiliation process in case D was the articulation of common values in a document that became part of the affiliation contract. Developed by Catholic system ethicists, the diocesian Bishop, and the Catholic system legal counsel, the document outlined the values of the Catholic health care ministry that should be shared by the parties (i.e. social justice, the promotion of human dignity, and responsible stewardship of resources). The document also states that direct abortion and assisted suicide will not be permitted in affiliating hospitals. Because terminations of pregnancy to save the life of the woman are not considered “direct” abortions, they would be permitted at the district hospital under the terms of the joint venture.

All cases therefore developed explicit strategies for dealing with religious values and controversial reproductive health services early in the negotiation process. These strategies included decisions about the type of affiliation, the future Catholic identity (if any) of the partners, and the future role of the Directives in guiding service delivery. Although theological considerations influenced decisions regarding reproductive services, concerns about social justice and responsible stewardship of resources also played prominent roles in affiliation agreements.

C.Factors in Successfully Negotiated Affiliations

Several key factors to successfully negotiating an affiliation agreement between Catholic and non-Catholic providers were identified. The first, as noted above, is the early formulation of a strategy for dealing with religious values and controversial reproductive health services, particularly abortion, within the context of affiliation agreements.

In addition, strategies to inform and involve the community throughout the affiliation process were employed in all four cases. Hospital publications explaining the need to affiliate and the process of affiliation were distributed internally and externally to keep the community informed. Hotlines were established to respond to questions and concerns. In cases A and D, open forums were held to allow community members to express their concerns about the proposed affiliation. In case D, this approach was particularly valuable for ensuring that the abortion issue was addressed early and openly. Additional efforts to ensure community involvement included holding public ceremonies to “mark the death” of the former Catholic hospital (when Catholic identity was relinquished) and soliciting input from community members in naming newly formed organizations. These strategies were considered critical in cases A, B and C, in which the affiliations resulted in the loss of identity of the two Catholic hospitals and the creation of a single, new organizational identity.

Other strategies employed to ensure a successful affiliation focused on managing the affiliation process itself. Outside consultants were hired to help board members, religious leaders, and senior executives come to an agreement about how religious issues would be addressed. Consultants were also hired to facilitate the development of strategies and implementation plans or to assist in the process of obtaining approvals for an affiliation from the Department of Justice.

The strategy employed in case C to facilitate the Department of Justice review process was carefully thought out and executed. A steering committee was organized to oversee the process, and an outside consultant with expertise in managing merger approvals was hired. The partners to the consolidation recognized from other organizations’ failed attempts to affiliate that poor planning could result in a denial from the Department of Justice. The partners to the affiliation in this case were particularly sensitive to these issues, given that they stood to gain 80% of the hospital market share.

In addition to using consultants, careful management of how the affiliations were operationalized was critical to a smooth integration process. Typically, an integration team representing the partners’ senior executives, clinicians, and administrative personnel was assembled to oversee the transition. Workgroups to address the different operational areas were also formed to align services between campuses and to review policies and procedures. Top administrators for the affiliated institutions were selected early, and their responsibilities and performance expectations were defined. Particular attention to human resources issues was identified as critical, in part because of the need to bridge cultural differences stemming from different religious traditions or service ideologies in the affiliating organizations.

The models for structuring governance arrangements that were employed in cases B, C, and D facilitated the integration of the partners to the affiliations. In case B, for example, a new integrated delivery system was formed. Each of the four partners to the integration maintained a separate governing board and had equal representation on a fifth board overseeing the system. Despite the small size of the board of the Catholic facility, its retained powers in the affiliation agreement ensured strong representation within the integrated delivery system. In case C, a single board for the new medical center was established, with equal representation from the two partners as well as community representation. A new corporation was formed to run the district hospital in case D; its board equally represents the Catholic system and the district hospital. The hospital also retained its own elected board, primarily to oversee the use of funds contributed by the Catholic system as part of the affiliation agreement.

Finally, key informants reported that gaining physician support for the proposed affiliations was a critical factor for successfully completing the affiliations. In case B, for example, physician involvement was solicited throughout the process by promoting a leadership role for physicians in managing consolidated clinical service lines. In case D, the strategy to promote physician involvement was to organize members of the district hospital’s medical staff into a committee to evaluate the quality of medical care provided by the Catholic and for-profit health systems competing to affiliate with the hospital.

D.Post-Affiliation Challenges

Affiliations are long-term processes that do not end when a formal agreement is negotiated. Although our site visits were conducted early in the post-affiliation phase of organizational development, it is important to note that ongoing challenges to completing integration activities were identified in all four cases.One of the most important challenges that emerged in all of the cases was completing the process of merging disparate organizational cultures. The human resources issues that are involved in merging cultures were compounded by religious vs. non-sectarian orientations of the partners, by workforce reductions, and by changes in the models of clinical care delivery (e.g. from departments to multidisciplinary service lines). In case B, in particular, cultural integration emerged as one of the most important issues. Key informants reported that management had failed to consider the impact of the merger on staff productivity and morale. Failure to plan for the cultural change process has led to the publication of an underground newsletter and a disgruntled management team.Although there were similar challenges of managing the cultural change process, the cases differed in their identification of challenges to the future of their partnerships. Cases B and D were still struggling with internal integration challenges. In case B, informants reported that an important challenge is finding strategies to help build physician management skills. This emerged as an important skill deficit among physicians during clinical department consolidation activities. In case D, key informants reported that workforce reductions and managing disagreements between unionized labor and management were the key challenges.Both cases A and C were focused on the challenges that lie ahead, now that basic integration strategies have been completed. In case A, informants reported that the most pressing needs are developing strategies for growth in new markets and for streamlining existing services. Case C informants also identified outcomes-focused challenges and the need to become more responsive to women’s health care needs in the communities served by the new medical center. Return to top

Is There a Common Ground? Affiliations Between Catholic and Non-Catholic Health Care Providers and the Availability of Reproductive Health Services

Table of Contents, Acknowledgements, Executive Summary
1. Introduction
2. Trends in Affiliations Involving Catholic Providers
3. The Affiliation Process and the Role of Reproductive Health Services in the Case Studies
4. The Outcomes of Affiliations in the Case Studies
5. Conclusions and Policy Implications
Figures Tables References
Appendix A Appendix B Appendix C


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