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Faith in the Hospital

Jim Molpus, for HealthLeaders Magazine, April 7, 2008
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Selberg says the Exempla board is trying to maintain the distinct missions and heritage of its three hospitals.

"The ethical and religious directives are fluid in the sense that their interpretation changes depending on who the archbishop might be, changes in terms of who the pope may be, and changes as time goes on," Selberg says. "It is very hard to predict what the impact of the ethical and religious directives might be. The more important point is that regardless of what their interpretation is, it is not appropriate for a nonsectarian hospital to follow."

Selberg adds that maintaining Catholic traditions at St. Joseph is something that Exempla is "proud to do." At the core, Exempla's opposition is "more about respecting the nonsectarian culture at Lutheran and Good Samaritan," he says.

Physicians in the community expressed concern about the availability of reproductive services should the proposed transaction go through. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers was asked to intervene based on his role as regulator of the state's charitable assets, but in December declined to block the sale. Exempla filed a suit against Suthers, asserting that he did not process the review appropriately. In February, SCLHS and CFF moved to take the transaction to binding arbitration.

Selberg has quite the opposite view from critics who may want to hold up Exempla as an example of why boundaries between faith and healthcare should be more distinct. "Even though we are in this situation, even though we are having our own mini War of the Roses here, I think faith-based is the way to go," he says. "I just believe that spirituality, that faith basis--regardless of whether the denomination is Catholic, Adventist, Methodist, Episcopal or whatever--brings a dimension to the culture that is just critical for the community-based mission for that organization. I would not want to lose that element in our nation's hospitals."


Jim Molpus is editor of HealthLeaders magazine and HealthLeaders Online News. He may be reached at jmolpus@healthleadersmedia.com.


By the Numbers:

4,927 community hospitals in the U.S.

 

 

  • 511, or 10.4 percent, describe themselves as "church-operated."
  • 5,747 overall hospitals in the U.S.
  • 530 or 9.2% are church-operated.
    Source: American Hospital Association.

    615 Catholic hospitals in the U.S.

  • 15.2 percent of U.S. hospital beds are in Catholic hospitals
  • $5.7 billion in charity care is provided by Catholic hospitals annually
    Source: Catholic Health Association of the United States.
    Outreach Isn't Just for Faith-Based Systems

    Community hospitals that don't have historical ties to a particular religion want to make one message clear: Just because the hospital heritage is not faith-based does not imply absence of faith. In fact, many community hospitals are also intensifying their outreach efforts into the faith community.

    Henry Ford Health System, a six-hospital community-based system founded in Detroit by the automotive pioneer in 1915, decided its community outreach to churches in Detroit needed some renewal of spirit. Health disparities in the Detroit area were a concern, especially in populations with high rates of diabetes, obesity and hypertension. Wilma Ruffin, manager of research programs for the department of surgery, says the system took a more focused effort to involve local clergy.

    "Most churches have a health ministry," Ruffin says. "In the African-American community as well as many other minority communities, the leaders are pretty much the pastors in the church. People go there for a lot of social information. They get that information at the church because that is who they trust. By extension, if the pastor trusts the doctor, then they will trust that doctor."

    The pastors--including two who sit on Henry Ford's board--said they needed tools: specifically, a way to get healthcare information directly to the congregation beyond the usual health fairs. Henry Ford responded by placing three "faith-based kiosks" in local congregations. The kiosks are interactive touchscreen computer terminals, each customized with presentations from the church's pastor and Henry Ford physicians, Ruffin says. Information modules cover subjects including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, healthy living, HIV/AIDS and caring for elderly parents. There are plans to add a fourth kiosk this spring.

    Feedback so far is largely anecdotal, but Ruffin says they hope to have numbers of people who interacted with the screens, as well as basic demographic data.

    -Jim Molpus

     

     

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