Is a For-Profit Structure a Viable Alternative for Catholic Health Care Ministry?

March 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

symposium-header21On March 26-27, Seton Hall Law will be home to a two day Symposium entitled “Is a For-Profit Structure a Viable Alternative for Catholic Health Care Ministry?” Funded through the generosity of a number of contributors, the Symposium is being hosted by Seton Hall Law’s Center for Religiously Affiliated Nonprofit Corporations and its Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy, in collaboration with the University of St. Thomas, John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy and the Veritas Institute.

In an April 2010 article, a reporter for The Boston Globe pondered whether “… for-profit Catholic health care is an oxymoron, or whether profitability and religious mission can be integrated.” This Symposium will examine whether a for-profit structure is a viable alternative for Catholic health care ministry.

The Program will provide a unique forum for dialogue among practitioners, academics and scholars in law, finance, theology and Catholic social teaching to “drill down” to specific legal, financial and operational issues relevant to an objective examination of the relationship of the for-profit legal and financial structure to the Catholic tradition of health care ministry. The Symposium will consist of a sequence of presentations intended to provide an objective overview of the relevant issues with opportunity for audience interaction. The first day, presenters will provide foundational descriptions of changes in law and finance that may occur when converting from a nonprofit legal structure to a for-profit structure. The second day, theologians, canonists and scholars in applied Catholic Social Thought will respond to the legal and financial descriptive presentations. The panelists will frame the conversation, in part, by referencing examples of for-profit models in Catholic health care.

In asking the Symposium’s question, “Is a For-Profit Structure a Viable Alternative for Catholic Health Care Ministry?” the proceedings are designed to engage scholars and practitioners from multiple disciplines to develop an objective framework for analyzing the following questions:

  1. Is the delivery of health care as a ministry compatible with providing that care through an investor-owned company publicly identified as Catholic?
  2. If not, why not?
  3. If yes, are there any management, governance or other structures or processes that may need to be developed to accommodate Catholic health care as a ministry?

The Symposium will not take a position on whether such conversions, in any of its forms, should or should not occur. The Symposium will provide the audience participants with the range of issues that may impact their specific decision.

An Examination of the Key Issues

The legal and financial differences between a non-profit and for-profit corporation will be analyzed from the perspective of Roman Catholic canon law, ethics and Catholic social teaching. The Symposium, focusing on these disciplines, will address questions such as the following:

  1. What is the relationship between the theological understanding of health care as a ministry and the legal definition of health care as a public good or a private commodity?
  2. Is Catholic identity in the legal purpose clause of a corporation subject to treatment as a trade or a service mark?
  3. Is Catholic identity an intangible asset subject to valuation?
  4. If the charter of the corporation is a contract between the investor and the corporation, what is the shareholder purchasing in terms of Catholic identity?
  5. If a corporate culture is rooted in values, is it necessary to use religious language to describe values rooted in the Catholic tradition to create a culture consistent with Catholic ministry? Or is it sufficient to describe Catholic identity in terms of objectively discernable proscriptions and prescriptions?
  6. If professional managers tend to be beyond effective shareholder control  and shareholders cannot instruct the board of directors, each of whom cannot be removed without cause, by whom and how is Catholic identity determined or monitored?
  7. What is the relationship between corporate law and Catholic Social Thought on private property, labor and capital, subsidiary, the distribution of goods and services, and human rights to social goods such as health care?
  8. In states adopting corporate constituency statutes instructing directors that they either may, or must, take into account the interests of constituencies other than shareholders in exercising their powers, does Catholic identity create new, discreet constituents other than shareholders or those identified in statutes?
  9. Are new benchmarks necessary to determine Catholic corporate success? If so, do these new benchmarks differ or align with benchmarks for success for any corporation having no religious affiliation?

Trip Report, Sierra Leone, Tom Johnson, Jr., Africa Surgery, Inc. (ASI)

March 13, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Global Health 

[Ed. note: I had the honor of meeting Tom Johnson a few years back, here at Seton Hall Law when I was still a student and he held a fundraiser through the school. AfricaSurgery, Inc. does God's work-- and I'm well pleased to publish his updates here on HRW. With the help of others, he does a lot-- with very little.]

October 27, 2011 – February 15, 2012

Umu Sesay was brought to us by a Catholic missionary priest in 2007.  Her small, seven-year-old spine was so deformed by a tuberculosis infection that I could hardly believe she was still able to stand and to walk around.  We had Umu complete a six-month medical regimen to cure her TB, and we sent her to Ghana in April of 2008 for surgery by a team from the Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine (FOCOS).   Unfortunately, Umu’s chest cavity was so compressed that she was unable to reach the minimum breathing required by the anesthesiologist before she could be cleared for surgery.   But Umu held onto the small plastic device used to measure her inhalation capacity, and she practiced breathing through it after her return to Sierra Leone.  By January, 2010 her persistence had paid off.   She was finally able to make all four of the small plastic balls rise up to the top of a plastic tube, when she inhaled through the testing device.  Umu was one of the four patients ASI sent from Sierra Leone to Ghana for spinal surgery by a FOCOS team in November, 2011.   All four surgeries were successful, and Umu and her three “surgery-mates” are out of pain and the danger of paralysis.  They all can now stand up quite straight.

Umu is finally able to stand straight thanks to surgery done in November, 2011, by the Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine (FOCOS).

Umu is finally able to stand straight thanks to surgery done in November, 2011, by the Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine (FOCOS).

Umu, whose parents are both deceased, is staying for one month at the ASI base in Freetown where she is receiving nutrient enriched food.  She is being tutored by an ASI helper who is himself a college student and who is a former school teacher.  Umu surprised us with how knowledgeable she is for an 11 year-old girl from a farming village.  Umu will soon be placed with the Cluny Sisters (Catholic missionaries) where she will live at their boarding school for the hearing impaired.  She will attend a primary school for hearing children, until the school year ends in July.  We expect that her spine will have healed by then so that she can be returned to her aunt in their home village.  Umu will no doubt be required to perform many chores, but hopefully she will be able to continue to attend school.

In November, a friend took me to a small village a couple of miles beyond his own to see a six-year-old boy with a “swelling and a sore in his mouth” which turned out to be a fast-growing tumor.  We took little Alimamy Kamara, along with his father, to be seen by the German orthopedic surgeons who were visiting Sierra Leone at that time and who had a reconstructive-plastic surgeon on their team.  The tumor was determined to be inoperable.  The team supplied us with palliative pain medication in the form of suppositories and a liquid formulation that could still be swallowed by the boy whose throat was closing up.   Alimamy died 13 days later. But our visit to his small village turned out to be a blessing for a young man who was also suffering with a painfully swollen face.

Alusine Kamara, age 20, before treatment for an abscess in his lower left jaw.

Alusine Kamara, age 20, before treatment for an abscess in his lower left jaw.

Alusine Kamara, age 20, had an abscess in his lower left jaw.  At first reluctant to accept our offer of help, Alusine’s increasing pain eventually forced him to allow us to take him 100 miles down to Freetown.  There the only oral surgeon in the country began what turned out to be a three-month-long process involving admission to the government hospital, heavy doses of intravenous and oral antibiotics and pain meds, and two surgeries.  Two more men completed similar treatments for abscessed jaws while I was in-country, and another man and one woman are to be admitted for oral surgery before the end of this month (Feb. 2012).  This will bring to 18 the number of persons for whom ASI has provided this rather expensive treatment.  The average cost is about $450.  Such abscess can be avoided by simply having decayed teeth pulled in time, saving much pain for the patient, and expense for us.  ASI did have the rotten molars of 55 persons pulled, between March, 2011, and February, 2012, at a cost of about $3.00 each.

While I was in-country, one of my helpers, Foday Tarawalie, brought 38 new patients with eye problems and 21 old cases in need of follow-up medications to the Baptist Eye Hospital in Lunsar.  Nine of the new cases received surgeries to regain their eyesight which was being obstructed by cataracts and/or pterygiums.   The 29 other new cases were medically treated for a variety of conditions including glaucoma and potentially-blinding infections.  ASI is continuing to fund Foday who is continuing to bring old and new patients to the hospital for sight-saving treatments.

Before I arrived in Sierra Leone, 48 surgeries to treat persons with hernias had already been done with funds provided by ASI since February, 2011.   While I was in country 11 more hernia repair surgeries were arranged and funded by ASI, including one for a seven-year-old boy.   Hernias remain a very prevalent health problem in Sierra Leone preventing thousands of men, boys and women from living productive lives.

New Jersey was well represented in Sierra Leone this year.  Dr. Nina Seigelstein returned to the Holy Spirit Hospital with a team including another gynecological surgeon, a scrub nurse, and a midwife.  They preformed 22 major surgeries on women brought to them by ASI, as well as for others who came on their own.   A detailed account can be found at the website:

Boi Woody, was despondentbefore we moved her to the Holy Spirit Hospital.  There visiting  teams of reconstructive surgeons from Great Britain will be able to save her from losing her infected foot.

Boi Woody, was despondentbefore we moved her to the Holy Spirit Hospital. There visiting teams of reconstructive surgeons from Great Britain will be able to save her from losing her infected foot.

A member of the ASI board of directors, Sergio Burani, made a nine-day visit to Sierra Leone for the purpose of making a photo documentary of our work.  Sergio fell into stride with the ASI team.  At one point Sergio asked a vendor in an open-air market in the capital city, Freetown, if he could photograph him and his produce.  The man refused but was overheard by the market head-man who, after we explained our mission, insisted that Sergio “snap” away with his camera as much as he wanted to.  All the fuss caught the attention of a passerby who told us of his mother who was in the main government hospital.  Her family could not afford to pay for the medications needed to treat her badly-infected foot which had suffered a wound when a large mortis fell on it.  The young man explained that the entire congregation of their church had decided to pray for his mother to be healed as the only solution at hand.  We paid a visit to the hospital where we heard that the foot might have to be amputated.  We ended up transporting the woman and her daughter 100 miles up-country to our base near the Holy Spirit Hospital.  The woman is being treated as an out-patient for the infection and for a low hemoglobin blood count.  She is scheduled to receive a skin graft by the next reconstructive plastic surgery team that will visit the hospital in early March.  She will not have to lose her foot.

While there, Sergio also instructed six disabled students, three with severe hearing loss, and three post-operative spinal surgery secondary school boys, in the principles of photography and the use of six non-automatic, non-digital cameras which he donated.  One of the hearing-impaired students has already set off on his own, photographing students at their graduation ceremony.   He now is trying to scrape together the money to have his film developed in the hope that he will be able to reap a small profit selling his prints.

On behalf of all of the many Sierra Leoneans whom your generosity is allowing ASI to help, I want to thank you for your support and for your prayers.   I wish to extend special thanks to the Knights of Columbus George Washington Council 359, which gave ASI $3,000 last year.  This more than covered my personal travel and living expenses, enabling all of your donations to go directly to providing medical, surgical, and health care.  We at ASI will continue our work in Sierra Leone to the extent that our funds will allow.  If you are able to join us in this effort, checks can be made out to Africa Surgery, Inc., or to ASI, and mailed to:

Tom Johnson

Africa Surgery, Inc.

70 Macculloch Ave.

Morristown, NJ 07960

You can also donate on line at our website:


The New York Times Hasn’t Scratched the Surface: For-Profit Catholic Healthcare

February 24, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Health Reform 

kathleen m. boozangPresident Obama has begun the process for healthcare reform by improving access through insurance reform, but achievement of his aspirations will require reform of our healthcare delivery system as well.  Changing where and how healthcare is delivered and paid for is of particular importance given the emerging and generally non-acute needs of the aging baby-boomers, and the lack of sufficient primary care to serve the many who will become insured as health insurance reforms are implemented.  Healthcare providers realize this, and the market is indeed adjusting as we speak.

Three examples of these changes to the delivery system include, first, moving much of the delivery of services out of hospitals and into the community.  Healthcare systems are rapidly affiliating with or employing physicians to facilitate this change, in the hopes of enabling the various parts of the health care system to work more collaboratively, efficiently and cost-effectively.  In many parts of the country, hospitals have been too cash-strapped to invest in necessary updating to their hospital facilities. Now that we are thinking differently about how to use the physical plant that hospitals occupy, and investing in new technology, these investments need to happen.  As a third example, President Obama is infusing money into hospitals and physician offices to enable the United States to catch up to other developed nations in the digitizing of its medical records.  The benefits of this change are numerous, but it is a very expensive transformation.

In order to provide quality service and compete in the fast-changing healthcare market, hospitals and the systems of which they are a part, need money to pay for these changes.  A February 21, 2012 New York Times article on the expansion of Catholic hospitals provides a glimpse of this phenomenon of market reform.  Cash-poor hospitals unable to access capital to invest in the new initiatives necessary to keep them competitive are looking for financially stronger partners with this investment ability.  There are currently 56 Catholic healthcare systems in the country, ranging from the financially successful to the distressed.  Thus it is unsurprising that a potential partner for some hospitals might be found among Catholic systems. Read more


A Broader Perspective on Catholic Healthcare

February 22, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Health Reform 

boozang123A February 21, 2012 New York Times article entitled “Catholic Hospitals Expand, Religious Strings Attached” addresses the challenges that arise when Catholic healthcare systems acquire healthcare providers and extend religious proscriptions to the newly acquired facilities and practitioners.  Specifically, the article raises concerns about women’s access to reproductive health services, particularly in communities where Catholic ownership of hospitals and other providers dominates.  Much of this same kind of market activity occurred in the early 90′s in anticipation of market reforms associated with Clinton healthcare reform.  So, while these are not new issues, they are no less difficult to resolve, perhaps in part because we have all become more politicized in our approach to problem solving, which almost seems impossible to imagine, but there it is.  In a 1995 Houston Law Review article entitled DECIDING THE FATE OF RELIGIOUS HOSPITALS IN THE EMERGING HEALTH CARE MARKET I attempted to propose a middle ground of accommodation that would facilitate access to care while providing Catholic healthcare providers with the space required to continue to be true to their religious beliefs.  I believe that the prescription remains as valid today as it was when written over a decade ago.

Catholic healthcare comprises a ministry, whereby the sisters or diocese that provide the health services are committed to ensure that they act in way that is true to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Catholic healthcare providers are living the gospel, which is replete with instances of Jesus ministering to the sick — he attended to healing the mind, body and spirit. This holistic healing mission began when various religious orders first established their hospitals, and continues today, albeit with fewer religious and more laypersons continuing the legacy of the Catholic healthcare mission.  Catholic healthcare has served an essential role in the United States since the nation’s inception, frequently being the only provider of care to the poor in numerous communities.  That dedication to the vulnerable segments of society continues today. Catholic healthcare providers were the first in many communities to treat compassionately, without judgment and without discriminating, those with HIV/AIDS.  Mission statements for Catholic providers focus on ensuring care to the homeless, to immigrants, whether documented or not, and to the underserved and uninsured. According to statistics available on the Catholic Health Association web page, Catholic healthcare is a national leader in its provision of birthing rooms and breast cancer treatment, geriatric services, nutrition programs, social work services and pain management programs. The disappearance of Catholic hospitals would decimate access to care in rural communities. Catholic hospitals have long been on the forefront of the call for healthcare reform that provides access to all, and support President Obama’s health reform efforts.

Catholic hospitals’ delivery of healthcare is informed by Catholic Social Teaching broadly and specifically by what are called The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which are promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Catholic Social Teaching rests on centuries of philosophical and theological learning to guide not only the Church but society in general on such questions as the relationship between labor and capital, the respectful treatment of employees and the importance of unions to workers, distribution of goods and services, and human rights to social goods such as health care.  The Ethical and Religious Directives, which are informed by Catholic teaching, are moral guidelines specific to healthcare, to aid in resolving such ethical issues as pregnancy termination, contraception, and euthanasia.  Obviously, the clinical situations in which these guidelines are implicated can be extremely complex, and sometimes require nuanced analysis by those with a deep understanding of Catholic moral theology and medicine.  Like any intellectual discipline, theologians, bishops, and healthcare providers sometimes disagree among themselves as to the appropriate application of these guidelines to a specific situation.  So, yes, it is true that Catholic healthcare providers are committed by their religious beliefs to operate in ways that may be different than secular providers, but these differences extend far beyond the moral limitations on the kinds of reproductive and end-of-life care they provide. This moral framework serves to unleash the kind of compassionate care that has been a hallmark of Catholic healthcare since its inception. Even in the face of severe budget cuts, Catholic hospitals continue to provide pastoral care to their patients, caregivers, and families; engage in constant assessment of fidelity to mission; and have been leaders of all hospitals with regard to measuring tax-exempt facilities’ provision of community benefits.

My ultimate point is two-fold.  First, Catholic healthcare is too important to the country’s healthcare system to be reduced in our assessment of its value to religious proscriptions that may interfere with access to a limited universe of services, albeit what are sometimes characterized as essential healthcare services. While some may dissent from application of Catholic teaching in particular instances, the continued and pervasive presence of health providers committed to the dignity of every person whom they treat is an ultimate societal good.  Where disagreement persists, it is important that the Church engage in sincere dialogue with all segments of society, with a willingness to be informed from medical, ethical, and sociological perspectives.

As Catholic providers partner, merge or otherwise collaborate with secular healthcare providers, community stakeholders, including licensing agencies, should demand and receive a clear understanding of the implications for healthcare access of the proposed alliance.  Each bishop acts as the ultimate arbiter of the Ethical and Religious Directives, which means that interpretations can vary by diocese.  For example, a minority of bishops have raised questions about the kind of emergency care administered by hospital emergency departments to rape survivors, out of an over-abundance of medical and moral caution, in my view, that the treatment might interfere with a pregnancy.  Thus, it is essential that regulators understand the implications of Catholic teachings for healthcare access, so that patients clearly understand the limitations of Catholic providers and, where appropriate, have alternatives to access services.  Our healthcare system has and will likely always be extremely pluralistic.  We have, and should continue to make every effort, to accommodate the religious beliefs of providers, while ensuring access to care to which patients are legally entitled.

Further, the public debate about what kind of care should be legally available should take seriously the perspective of those whose viewpoints are informed by moral concerns, whether those concerns arise from religious or philosophical principles.  Finally, both The United States Catholic Conference and individual bishops should ensure that they receive a robust analysis of ethical issues related to healthcare from the Church’s best theologians with relevant expertise before promulgating guidance to those engaged in healthcare ministry.  Importantly, bishops should also hear from those who are involved daily in caring for and ministering to patients.

The ultimate goal of reform is one upon which both Catholic healthcare providers and proponents of women’s health agree — increased access to healthcare for all.  Collaboration on the pursuit of this unified goal should enable us to identify means by which the plural interests of the stakeholders can be accomplished.  Transparency and conversation are key to achieving these ends.  In my conversations with those concerned about changes in the healthcare delivery system, I have always found them to be very respectful of religious freedom, appreciative of the role religious providers play in society, and desirous of finding a common way forward.  While the number of religious sisters is shrinking in the United States, women remain a significant presence in the leadership of Catholic healthcare.  A cursory review of the areas where Catholic healthcare predominates reveals a strong commitment to women’s health and wellness.  For these reasons, I feel confident that common ground exists to ensure access to health care for all, while carving out space for Catholic fidelity to the demands of their religion.