The story is about the combination of two hospitals in Hot Springs. One of them, Mercy Health, is a Catholic hospital.
Some critics — including Little Rock Bishop Anthony Taylor — call Mercy’s decision to sell its 309-bed hospital in Hot Springs an abandonment of the ministry by the nation’s sixth largest Catholic health system.
Taylor, who leads all of Arkansas’ 137,000 Catholics, will make his case in Rome to Vatican officials against the sale on Tuesday. Mercy’s chief executive, Lynn Britton, has lobbied the Vatican in favor of the sale.
Taylor worries that the hospital buyer’s promise not to provide abortion or sterilization procedures for five years after the sale will be tossed aside in year six, and that the sale will derail the hospital’s commitment to his diocese’s poor.
“Mercy wants to move out of less lucrative markets and into more lucrative markets like the suburbs of St. Louis,” Taylor said in an interview. “The mission of Catholic healthcare is that we ought to seek to be in those less lucrative markets. In a nutshell, that’s the problem with Mercy Health. It has become a business that’s leaving the poor behind.”
The story is interesting in its own right for what the future of health care might be in Hot Springs.
But it is also relevant to those considering the effort by a Catholic hospital in Little Rock, St. Vincent, to join forces with UAMS, a public hospital. Will the Catholic Church really allow a shared partnership and public investment from an institution that has a much broader view of both health care and employee rights than the Pope? Will Bishop Taylor argue for the UAMS/St. Vincent combination if shared employees have union rights, protection from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, birth control coverage in their health care, access to morning-after pills in case of rape or other unplanned intercourse, tubal ligations, vasectomies, stem cell research, in vitro fertilization programs?