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Catholic directives play key role in St. Joseph sale

The ethical and religious directives that define Catholic-based health care were an integral part of the exclusive negotiation agreement struck last week between St. Joseph Medical Center and the favored buyer, University of Maryland Medical System, officials of both hospitals said.

The 43-page ERDs —covering everything from abortion to family planning and end-of-life issues — define a special church health care mission. They were last updated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2009.

UMMS officials have declined to comment more specifically on the talks to buy the beleaguered St. Joseph Medical Center this spring or the ERD agreement. St. Joseph officials also declined to comment further.

Both said in statements last week that the Catholic health care philosophy and directives would continue to be honored at St. Joseph.

Those ERDs fully define the Catholic pastoral and spiritual approach to the unique church mission of health care.

They support the stance of the church on issues such as abortion, birth control, sterilization and end-of-life care. Sacraments such as the Holy Eucharist are offered before and after medical procedures to members of the Catholic faith.

The ERDs state that their purpose, in part, is to “reaffirm the ethical standards of behavior in health care that flow from the church’s teaching about the dignity of the human person” and “to provide authoritative guidance on certain moral issues that face Catholic health care today.”

Despite the willingness of UMMS to uphold the ERDs, Baltimore’s Catholic leader, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, said in a statement last Friday that 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 statement continued: “The hospital and its staff of outstanding doctors, nurses, physicians and other health care workers have a special connection to the Catholic community and the Archdiocese, as well to countless others, and I pray these ties will not be severed by today’s decision.”

In response to telephone calls and emails seeking further comment, Sean Caine, spokesman for the Archdiocese, wrote in an email Wednesday: “Neither the Cardinal nor the Archdiocese has further comment beyond our statement of Friday.”

Past mergers and acquisitions of Catholic hospitals in Maryland and Washington have also included ERDs.

The 2000 purchase of Georgetown University Hospital by Columbia-based MedStar Health included a commitment to honor the ERDs, said hospital spokeswoman Marianne Worley.

“MedStar Health has fully supported compliance with the ERDs at (MedStar Georgetown University Hospital) since that time,” Worley said in an email. “We provide an environment in which ‘the mutual respect, trust, honesty and appropriate confidentiality’ required in Catholic Health Care are allowed to flourish.”

Jean Hitchcock, MedStar Health’s corporate vice president for public affairs and marketing, agreed.

“We abide by the ERDs,” she said Wednesday. “That was the deal, that’s part of the culture and part of the deal that we accepted.”

In Cumberland, the 1996 merger of two small community hospitals, Sacred Heart Hospital, owned by the Daughters of Charity and later by Ascension Health, and the nonprofit Memorial Hospital, also brought about an agreement by the newly combined Western Maryland Health System board to honor the Catholic ERDs.

The obstetrics and gynecological services, some of which could be considered controversial under the ERDs, were offered under the merged system at Memorial Hospital only, said Kathy Rogers, director of community relations at the Western Maryland Regional Medical Center, formerly the Western Maryland Health System.

“We were able to still keep all of the services we had previously offered in the community in the community,” Rogers said. “We are talking tubal ligations, no abortions on demand and any other types of sterilizations. We worked very closely with them and the health system board was made up with members from both hospitals. It was not controversial from their perspective.”

The ERD agreement dissolved in 2006 before a new $289 million medical center was opened in 2009, replacing both smaller hospitals.

Today, the new Western Maryland Regional Medical Center does not abide by the Catholic Church’s ERDs, Rogers said.

“Without the ERDs, the medical center functions just the way any normal community hospital would function,” Rogers said. “Those are pretty much universal with all community hospitals: providing care despite the ability to pay.

“Our benefit back to the community was over $34 million in fiscal year 2011. Those were the things they knew would not change.”