Do Roman Catholic Bishops Run Your Hospital?
Between 2001 and 2011, the number of American hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church grew 16 percent, even as the number of public hospitals and secular nonprofit hospitals dropped 31 percent and 12 percent, respectively, according to MergerWatch, which tracks religious health care mergers. In 2012, Catholic hospitals and health care systems were involved in 24 mergers or acquisitions, according to Irving Levin Associates, a market research firm. Ten of the 25 largest nonprofit hospital systems in the country are Catholic, and Catholic hospitals care for 1 in 6 American patients. In at least eight states, 30 percent or more of patient admissions are at Catholic facilities.
Ten of the 25 largest nonprofit hospital systems in the country are Catholic, and Catholic hospitals care for 1 in 6 patients.
Catholic hospitals are required to follow health care directives handed down by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops—a group of celibate older men who have become increasingly conservative over the past few decades. (Recall the bishops’ ongoing showdown with the White House over Obamacare’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraception.) The issues go far beyond abortion. The bishops’ directives restrict how doctors in Catholic hospitals may treat everything from miscarriages to terminal illness. How this treatment differs from that of secular hospitals is not always disclosed to patients.
“When you go into a hospital or an ER, you do not think that there’s a bishop between you and your doctor,” says Linda McCarthy, CEO of a Planned Parenthood branch in western Washington. In 2010, Peter Sartain, a prominent bishop recently enlisted by the church to crack down on nuns deemed too liberal, was appointed to the Seattle diocese. Not long afterward, he told the Catholic hospital in McCarthy’s area to stop performing lab work for Planned Parenthood that the hospital had handled for at least a decade, including tests unrelated to abortion, such as cholesterol screenings. McCarthy publicized the demand and the hospital backed off, for the time being.