Catholic Hospitals

Archdiocese of Boston set to end ownership of hospitals

.- The Archdiocese of Boston has preliminarily agreed to transfer ownership of the six hospitals in its Caritas Christi Health Care system, including the historical Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Brighton, to the nation's largest Catholic hospital chain.

According to the Boston Globe, the archdiocese has signed a letter of intent with St. Louis-based Ascension Health, which operates more than 70 hospitals in 20 states. In coming months, officials will negotiate details of the agreement, including how much compensation, if any, the archdiocese will receive.

According to the plan Ascension will assume Caritas Christi's debt -- about $278 million as of 2006. No immediate changes in operations are expected, and Ascension has no stated intentions to close any hospitals. The archdiocese hopes to complete the deal by July 1.

The deal is expected to bring more money and expertise to a system facing increasingly complex challenges in the Boston healthcare market. Caritas Christi is the second-largest hospital chain in Massachusetts, but its technology is not keeping pace with that of other hospitals.

The transfer to Ascension Health also ensures that current procedures related to abortion and the distribution of birth-control, which are counter to Catholic teaching, will remain in place.

Ellen Lutch Bender, President and Chief Executive of Bender Strategies LLC, a healthcare consulting firm in Boston, spoke to The Globe about the benefits of the plan. "The decision by the archdiocese to sell to Ascension assures the Church that their values and mission will be preserved,” Bender said. “At the same time, the Cardinal now removes himself from the responsibilities of running a business of enormous complexity, regulation, and sophistication.”

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