by Max Brantley
The signed definitive agreement marks the end of due diligence and is the next step in the transaction process. The parties have already begun pursuing customary required regulatory approvals. Mercy’s relationship to the Catholic Church also requires approval from the Vatican, and that process is underway. This final phase is expected to take 60 to 90 days, subject to regulatory and Vatican approval.
Does this mean the agreement being studied by UAMS and St. Vincent Health, an alliance that would function in many ways like a merged hospital, require Pope Benedict's approval, too? Would the pope approve of an alliance with an institution that provides birth control devices and pills; provides insurance that covers birth control for its employees; provides tubal ligations; provides vasectomies; can provide, at a minimum, referrals for abortions for women whose health would be endangered by a term pregnancy or who are carrying fetuses that can't live outside the womb; would provide a morning-after pill to rape victims; has a written policy against discrimination in personnel practices based on sexual orientation?
Or, a simpler question: In a UAMS/St. Vincent "alliance," would the pope effectively have policy control over a publicly owned institution? UAMS insists not, but how could St. Vincent in conscience share equity and revenues with a partner engaging in such practices? Would the pope's bishops continue to actively campaign against administration health initiatives that happen to provide huge financial benefits to UAMS (and thus a partner hospital) and are welcomed by a huge percentage of the public at large, including many Catholics?
These are not frivolous questions.