RELIGION AND HOSPITALS: The Catholic Church complicates hospital deals in Hot Springs and in Little Rock (St. Vincent shown here.)

  • RELIGION AND HOSPITALS: The Catholic Church complicates hospital deals in Hot Springs and in Little Rock (St. Vincent shown here.)

The line is open. But first some hospital news:

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* POPE INTERESTED IN ARKANSAS HOSPITAL DEAL: No, not the UAMS/St. Vincent merger. At least not yet. But here’s news from St. Louis that says the Vatican has slowed down a sale of Mercy Hospital in Hot Springs to a private concern:

Vatican officials in Rome have put the brakes on Mercy Health’s plan to sell one of its Arkansas hospitals.

Tim Johnson, chief executive of Mercy Hospital Hot Springs, told employees in an email Friday that the Vatican has ordered Mercy executives to sit down with Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock and try to resolve their differences.

Taylor has opposed the pending hospital sale to Capella Healthcare Inc. and has accused Mercy chief executive Lynn Britton of pushing the deal forward at the expense of the nonprofit’s century-old charity mission in the Hot Springs area.

This following is a bit ironic:

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“Rather than provide approval or denial of our petition at this time,” the statement said, “the Vatican has asked that Mercy engage in further discussions” with the bishop to address his concerns about “ongoing care for the poor, the continuation of Ethical and Religious Directives and the impact of the transition on co-workers.”

Ironic because, see, if UAMS throws in with St. Vincent, under guidelines acceptable to the pope, I’d have to wonder about “ongoing care” for women, the enforcement of “ethical and religious directives” on a wide range of publicly financed services for people who might not hold with Catholic teaching on such matters and “the impact of the transition on co-workers,” including on bargaining rights, coverage of reproductive health under health insurance policies and other issues, not to mention 1st Amendment rights afforded public employees, but not those controlled by a religious institution, and applicability of the state Freedom of Information Act to a publicly funded hospital operation controlled by St. Vincent and, ultimately, Rome. Could we FOI the pope’s memos on accepted treatment in Little Rock?