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Editorial: UMMS, St. Joseph a good match

The prospective match between the University of Maryland Medical System and St. Joseph Medical Center appears to be a good one for many reasons.

UMMS can bring financial stability, credibility, a network of facilities and physicians, economies of scale and an academic component to St. Joseph, which has been struggling with legal and financial problems since 2009.

With a system of 12 academic, community and specialty hospitals across Maryland, the private, nonprofit UMMS has annual operating revenues of almost $3 billion, employs 15,000 people and has more than 2,300 licensed beds.

Its reach, reputation and resources would appear to be just what the doctor ordered for St. Joseph.

The St. Joseph board appeared to acknowledge as much in its statement last Friday recommending that the hospital join UMMS: “The board recognized that as health care reform continues to evolve, it will be critical for health providers to be part of a regional network of coordinated health care organizations including hospitals, physicians, payers and other related health entities in geographically proximate areas”

At the same time, St. Joseph, a 263-bed hospital in Towson has much to offer UMMS, including entree into the central Baltimore County healthcare market, expansion room for UMMS on its campus, a devoted cadre of practitioners and patients and a long and rich heritage of providing medical care.

A key part of that heritage is St. Joseph’s strong Catholic identity. Founded in 1864 by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, the hospital was first called St. Joseph German Hospital. It moved to its current location on Osler Drive in1965 and is owned by Catholic Health Initiatives of Denver.

Preserving St. Joseph’s Catholic identity was a central condition in the three-month due diligence process that involved two other potential buyers, LifeBridge Health and St. Agnes Hospital.

St. Joseph’s board said in a statement last Friday that “UMMS has committed to honor SJMC’s Catholic identity and its religious heritage.”

Nevertheless, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, head of the Archdiocese of Baltimore until his successor is installed May 16, said he was “disappointed” with the selection of UMMS “given the high priority we place on maintaining the Catholic identity of our many institutions in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”

The cardinal’s remarks were a reminder that this is still far from a done deal. The action by the St. Joseph board means the parties will negotiate exclusively on a nonbinding letter of intent to transfer ownership to UMMS.

That would be followed by a final agreement, which then would need approval from Catholic Health Initiatives, UMMS, federal, state and church authorities before the transaction can be closed.

So there is still much to do. But we believe the parties are on the right track, and we hope they will be able to arrive at an equitable agreement in which the real winner will be the citizens of Maryland.

One comment

  1. To the Editors:

    I am unable to fault your assessment of the potential benefits of UMMS’ ownership of St. Joseph Hospital. I am very concerned, however, that ‘UMMS has committed to honor SJMC’s Catholic identity and its religious heritage’, especially given that the Archdiocese of Baltimore places a ‘high priority … on maintaining the Catholic identity of [it’s] many institutions.’

    In Reverend Daki Napata v. University of Maryland Medical System Corporation, No. 5, September Term, 2010 (January 24, 2011), the Court of Appeals concluded:

    “The State’s sustained oversight of UMMS reveals that the corporation is an instrumentality of the State for purposes of the P[ublic] I[information A[ct].”

    Slip Opinion at 15. It follows, and is especially obvious in light of recent issues presented by federal requirements for birth control prescription coverage, that honoring SJMC’s ‘Catholic identity’ and ‘religious heritage’ would present substantial risks of UMMC violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. I expect that this will be thoroughly and definitively addressed before a transaction is completed.

    Alan Eason