Catholic Healthcare West adopts non-Catholic governing structure
By Kevin J. Jones
Catholic Healthcare West's CEO Llyod H. Dean
Catholic Healthcare West's CEO Llyod H. Dean

.- Catholic Healthcare West, one of the largest health systems in the U.S., is changing its name to Dignity Health while adopting a non-denominational governing board in an effort to expand.

The new structure and name will help the organization to “grow nationally while preserving the identity and integrity of both its Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals,” Dignity Health said Jan. 23.

The system’s Catholic hospitals will continue to be Catholic under the direct sponsorship of their founding religious congregations and will adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services produced by the U.S. bishops.

The non-Catholic hospitals will continue to be non-Catholic and will adhere to the “Statement of Common Values.” Those rules prohibit abortion and in-vitro fertilization but not sterilization procedures like tubal ligations, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Sr. Judy Carle, S.M., vice chair of the Dignity Health Board of Directors, said the organization’s new name reflects its identity.

“The value of dignity is embedded in our culture. Our mission, vision and values were all formed out of the recognition of the inherent dignity of each person.”

Sr. Carle also cited a declining number of religious sisters as a reason for the structural changes.

The changes follow “several years of discussions” between the system’s sponsoring congregations, board of directors and management team about its future. Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, where Dignity Health is headquartered, consulted with other bishops and determined that the changes are consistent with Catholic morals and may proceed.

The system came under major scrutiny because of a 2009 incident at Catholic Healthcare West’s St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. The hospital’s ethics board decided that a direct abortion could be performed on a woman who was suffering severe medical complications.

On Dec. 21, 2010, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix revoked the Catholic status of the hospital.

The bishop’s investigation found that the hospital and its parent company were involved in a pattern of behavior that violated Catholic health care ethics, including the creation and management of a government program that offers birth control, sterilization procedures and abortion.

Lloyd Dean, the president and CEO of Catholic Healthcare West, said concerns about the system’s Catholic affiliation have hindered potential agreements with other hospitals.

“I have been contacted over the last couple of years by many, many different constituencies who have an interest in Catholic Healthcare West and what we have accomplished,” he told the Sacramento Bee.

Potential partners have asked about their future as a non-Catholic entity within the system, whether they will have to become Catholic hospitals themselves, and what the Catholic influence over them will be, he said.

The hospital system operates in California, Arizona and Nevada. There are 25 Catholic and 15 secular hospitals in the system. It is the fifth-largest in the country with about $11 billion in revenue and 6.2 million patients treated in 2011.

The system is also seeking to triple in size.

Dignity Health, in a Frequently Asked Questions bulletin, said the system’s long-term plans call for a “more integrated care” to enhance quality and reduce costs. The new structure and name “enable us to grow into a national system, welcoming both Catholic and non-Catholic care centers into the system, while respecting the identity and integrity of each.”

The change was necessary, the system said, because “inclusiveness has always been a priority for our sister sponsors” and because they wanted to ensure continued partnership with “others who share our values.” The change “preserves our ministry in the Catholic tradition.”

The system’s governing structure is also changing.

Catholic Healthcare West’s original governing board was headed by the Corporate Members body, which was composed of representatives from each of the system’s six sponsoring religious congregations. The board of directors was the second level of governance and was appointed by the Corporate Members.

In the new Dignity Health structure, the Board of Directors is the top level of governance and is non-denominational.

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