Caritas / Landmark U-Turn

We got our first good news here on the blog last night with a statement from Cardinal O’Malley and Caritas CEO Ralph de la Torre about the future of a hospital Caritas is planning to acquire, but of course it still raises more questions  than it answers.

On Tuesday, we asked yet more questions about Caritas, and one of them was about their plans to acquire Landmark Hospital in Providence:

If Caritas Christi is planning to abide by Catholic religious and ethical directives after the acquisition by Cerberus, how do they explain the plan to keep Landmark secular (see Providence Journal report), which includes allowing them to continue doing sterilizations and performing family planning services that violate such directives (see Boston Globe report)?  How does that gibe with Cardinal O’Malley’s March 2009 statement that “Caritas Christi will never…in any way participate in actions that are contrary to Catholic moral teaching…and no arrangement will be entered into unless it is completely in accord with Church teaching.” Are we who question this still “doing a great disservice to the Catholic Church”?

Here are the statements of both Caritas and Landmark of just a few days ago saying Landmark would stay secular:

“The goal is to remain secular, and that’s what we’re aiming at,” a spokesman for Rhode Island’s Landmark hospital told the Providence Journal. A Caritas Christi spokesman confirmed: “Our intent is to preserve Landmark in its current form, which includes no religious affiliation.”

Well, yesterday Cardinal O’Malley consulted  with Ralph de la Torre about this situation and what emerged was this “U-turn” statement:

The Cardinal was concerned about public statements that Landmark would not be operated as a Catholic hospital if acquired by Caritas.

Dr. de la Torre said, “We wish to clarify statements that have been previously made regarding Landmark Medical Center and its affiliation with Caritas Christi. Currently, Caritas Christi advises Landmark Medical Center, but does not manage the hospital. If Landmark Medical Center is acquired by Caritas Christi or by any company owning the Caritas Christi hospitals, Landmark Medical Center will function within and abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives.”

We regard this as very good news and quick response.  But we are wondering why it took the public statements and public criticism by “those who said…this could result in Landmark providing services considered immoral by Catholics” to get this intervention and reversal.  Who voted on this deal in the first place and allowed it to go through such that it would violate the Ethical and Religious Directives?  What happened to the Ethics Committee that is supposed to be part of the Stewardship Agreement?

The group that votes on and approves deals like this–as well as the Cerberus acquisition of Caritas, as well as the morally-flawed Caritas/Centene financial partnership of 2009–would be the Caritas Board of Governors.  Go ahead and scour the Caritas or Boston Archdiocesan websites and see if you can find a current list of names of the anonymous Board members who make these decisions.  Actually, the only place we found names was on the Massachusetts Secretary of State website.  Here is the Caritas Chisti 2009 annual report that lists them (along with their email addresses).  Some terms have probably expired by now, so this list may not be completely accurate today, and new Board members may be in place voting, er, shall we say, anonymously.  Here are the 2009 names:

Ralph de la Torre, President and CEO of Caritas Christi
Joseph H. Feitelburg
Robert Gustafson (President, Crescent Credit Union)
Fr. Bryan Hehir, Archdiocese of Boston Secretary for Health Care and Social Services
James Karam, President First Bristol Corp
Ruben J King-Shaw, Jr, President, Mansa Equity Partners
Thomas Martin, President and CEO, Cramer
James F. O’Connor, CPA, Managing Director and CEO, The Chartwell Company
Rev. Nicholas Sanella, Immaculate Conception, Lowell

Terms expired 2009:
Neil Finnegan, Former Chairman, Citizens Bank
John Garvey, Dean of Boston College Law Schools (now former dean)
The Honorable Neil L. Lynch, Hingham

If something as straightforward as this was approved by Board and took public airing and public complaints to get reversed and clarified by the Cardinal, how many other questionable decisions does this Board make which never get proper review and scrutiny?  How can the public be assured that all of the conflicts of interest this blog and others have documented regarding the Caritas/Cerberus deal are not harmful to public interests, the Catholic Church, and the poor who most benefit from non-profit Catholic healthcare?  How do we know what back-door deals have already been discussed to sell selected Caritas properties to certain entities like Partners Healthcare.

The final part of the Cardinal’s statement says: “We look forward to the conclusion of the Caritas Christi transaction with Steward Health Care System LLC so that the system will receive much needed capital…while continuing to provide high quality healthcare in accord with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Given the $25 million exit clause and conflicts of interest with Partners Board members actively involved in key aspects of this deal, nothing we have seen or heard yet suggests this transaction will actually fulfill the last part of that promise.  We hope we are wrong and these concerns are “unfounded.”

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