Forgive the New York-centric nature of this post, but the fate of St. Vincent’s Hospital has ramifications far beyond the isle of Manhattan. Founded by the Sisters of Charity, St. Vincent’s is the last Catholic hospital in the city and is now in danger of closing. A local health care consortium had offered to buy the facility and turn it into an out patient facility, but that offer was withdrawn late last week. The state floated a loan to help St. Vincent cover its operating budget, but a temporary injection of funds may not be enough to insure the hospital’s long-term stability.
Just a few years ago, there were as many as eight Catholic hospitals in New York, but for a variety of complicated reasons that number was reduced to one in just over a year. That story was largely untold until Daniel Sulmasy reported it in our pages last March. Dr. Sulmasy listed five reasons for the demise of Catholic health care in New York, including what seems like the most pressing fact for St. Vincent’s right now: “the market is a harsh environment for faith-based institutions.”
Catholic schools have been roundly supported by donors, but why have Catholic hospitals (and adoption agencies) not received the same loyalty from the Catholic community? Perhaps the time has come to let these institutions pass away? To focus our money and energies on smaller causes, ones less tied to brick and morter institutions? Sulmasy disagrees:
Personally, despite all the obstacles, I continue to be convinced that Catholic institutions (and, in particular, Catholic hospitals) are worth fighting to save. Catholic institutions help to nourish the faith of those who work in them and are served by them. Our Catholic hospitals also provide a vehicle for proving that our moral convictions are compatible with 21st-century technology, and they embody the ideal that service institutions ought to have service missions. In health care, patients and practitioners alike are becoming alienated from the health care delivery system. Hospitals that treat patients with true respect, recognize their dignity, attend to their spiritual needs, value people over technology and value service over the bottom line are precisely the remedy that people need. Given their mission, Catholic institutions should be leading the way.
But in our current health care environment, can Catholic hospitals that value "people and service over the bottom" line survive? It doesn't look good. The demise of St. Vincent's is one more sign that the health care system as it exists now is in drastic need of an overhaul.