Bayfront plan too tenuous for City Council
By WES ALLISON
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- Bayfront Medical Center has promised the city it can remain part of a hospital alliance and still be virtually free of the Catholic health care directives that govern other members.
But the Roman Catholic Church appears to want more control over how its hospitals work with non-Catholic ones, not less, records show. And the church seems more determined than ever to make sure such partnerships don't compromise its values in areas such as sterilization and end-of-life care.
The records, which the St. Petersburg City Council reviewed last week, indicate it could be difficult for Bayfront to uphold its promise to remain secular if it stays in the six-hospital BayCare Health Alliance, which includes two Catholic hospitals, several council members said.
"After reading those documents, I think we would be naive to think that those two entities could coexist, one truly secular, and the other truly Catholic," City Council member Bill Foster said Friday.
"I can't see the two organizations, Bayfront and BayCare, ever being able to compromise. And I know the Catholic Church will not compromise. We're setting this thing up to where there's potentially going to be an unwind anyway, in spite of all of the assurances."
The city sued Bayfront over its adherence to certain aspects of the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives as part of the hospital's participation in the money-saving BayCare alliance. Bayfront is private but leases much of its property from the city, and some council members contend that amounts to an improper merger of church and state.
Three weeks ago, Bayfront offered a plan for settling the lawsuit: The hospital would buy its land from the city for $47-million over 47 years and, except for banning most abortions to satisfy the Catholic partners, Bayfront would operate as a secular hospital.
But Thursday, the City Council voted not to sell the land. And in light of church documents recently released to City Hall regarding the Catholic directives, some members say they don't see how Bayfront can remain truly secular.
"How can any reasonable person come up with that analysis? They're going to have to change their policies and procedures," member Kathleen Ford said.
But rather than forcing Bayfront to leave BayCare, the two Catholic hospitals, St. Joseph's in Tampa and St. Anthony's in St. Petersburg, should pull out instead, she said.
Through a spokesperson, Bayfront CEO and President Sue Brody said Bayfront can keep its promise to serve as a secular hospital, without stopping the tubal ligations and vasectomies it now offers.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a department of the Vatican charged with making sure Catholic teachings are followed, has ordered the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to review the ethical and religious directives governing the partnerships of Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals.
Catholic church leaders fear current rules may be too ambiguous, and that Catholic hospitals too often are "justifying the doing of evil in order to achieve good" when they work with non-Catholic hospitals, according to letters and other documents sent last week to Catholic hospitals by the Rev. Michael D. Place, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association.
"The congregation is saying, "Let's make sure . . . we are learning from our experiences,' " Place said Friday in a phone interview from Rome. "It's based on experiences that they are saying, "These are some things to be attentive to.' "
According to a draft of proposed changes, such partnerships would be more accountable to the church and there may be less room for compromise regarding common practices such as sterilization. The church forbids sterilization, but many non-Catholic hospitals, including Bayfront, perform them under special arrangements that involve ensuring the revenue from them isn't mixed with other hospital funds.
The church has broken up three partnerships between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals, church records indicate.
In one case, an unnamed Catholic hospital merged with an unnamed not-for-profit community hospital to form one hospital to save money. The state, which also is unnamed, approved the merger, and abortions at the hospital ceased. But the state attorney general required the new hospital to continue to provide sterilizations.
The church eventually killed the arrangement.
"The documentation emphasizes that sterilization is an intrinsic evil and as such can never be justified under any circumstances as part of medical treatment provided to patients in a hospital under Catholic administration," the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote.
St. Petersburg Mayor David J. Fischer, who supported the sale of the Bayfront property, said he still hoped for a settlement but would ask Bayfront to put in writing the conditions by which it would remain secular or leave BayCare.
"Knowing that there could be something that the Catholic Church may not be able to live with, and if that was the case, we wanted the board of Bayfront to be able to opt out, or conversely, that BayCare could kick them out," he said.
The proposed changes to the directives also note that "because of the changing environment in health care, cooperative ventures should be re-evaluated to ensure ongoing consistency with Catholic teaching."
Even some members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed concerns about the effect some changes may have on health care, records show, including the loss of obstetrical/gynecological services at some hospitals and the difficulty of untangling existing partnerships that suddenly could be ruled untenable.
But Place warned against putting too much stock in the proposals. He stressed the process can be long and wide-ranging, and a vote on the changes isn't scheduled until June or later.
He declined to speak specifically about Bayfront, but said the proposed revisions and other documents shouldn't be applied to a single case.
"The Vatican recognizes the complexity, the committee recognizes the complexity," Place said.
"I think it's sort of unfortunate that all of this becomes part of a conversation about a particular arrangement. This is a work in progress, and we don't know where it's going to land, other than everybody being faithful to our faith."
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