The Catholic Church and Its Hospitals: A Marriage Made in Heaven?

A New Book Published by the American Association for Physician Leadership Examines the Relationship and its Impact on Healthcare 

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — A new book written by Patricia Gabow, MD, MACP, and published by the American Association for Physician Leadership, examines the history, evolution, and current relationship of the Catholic church and U.S. healthcare. The book is entitled The Catholic Church and Its Hospitals: A Marriage Made in Heaven?

The book traces Catholic healthcare’s noble lineage from its biblical foundation to the courageous women religious establishing hospitals providing care to those in need, and to the formation of large, wealthy healthcare corporations with rules that dictate the healthcare for many Catholics and non-Catholics.

A 2022 report indicated that four of the ten largest healthcare systems were Catholic. Forty-six states have Catholic hospitals, with 14% of the hospital beds under Catholic ownership — exceeding 40% of the beds in some states. This reach and its implications for the care of millions of Americans is not well understood.

The Catholic bishops, through 77 rules known as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), determine what care can and cannot be given to patients. This has significant implications for both physicians and patients.

Physicians, healthcare providers, policymakers, and patients need to understand the reach, the rules, and their implications. Yet, there is a surprising lack of institutional transparency. Consequently, patients often do not know if their hospital is Catholic, what types of care are prohibited, and that their doctors must follow the ERDs.

This book is an enlightening guide that underscores Catholic healthcare’s contributions and uncovers areas of concern about mission fidelity and function in a pluralistic society. It leads the reader to a compelling set of recommendations for the Church and the government to ensure the Catholic health system stays true to its roots of service and charity and to its role in our society.

“No magic wand exists to create this return of Catholic healthcare to its old path or facilitate its building new roads,” said Gabow. “Even agreeing that change is needed would be transformational. If the Catholic healthcare institutions adopted the suggestions made in the book, it would be an enormous step forward; American healthcare and society would be better and stronger.”

“We can hope for, work for, and pray that the Catholic church and its hospitals can be a marriage made in heaven,” Gabow said.

“We’re reminded of our mission: It is our core belief that all physicians are leaders, and as such are especially vital in determining and effecting better healthcare services delivery and patient outcomes,” said Peter Angood, MD, FRCS (C), FACS, MCCM, FAAPL(Hon), president and CEO of AAPL. “Dr. Gabow has thoroughly researched this issue, the examination and discussion of which is fundamental to our delivering on that mission. We believe also that clarity and transparency are always the best ways to avoid misunderstandings.”

About the American Association for Physician Leadership

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) is focused on the personal transformation of all physicians, and through them the organizations they serve. With the goal of improving patient outcomes, workforce wellness, and a refinement of all healthcare delivery, AAPL has remained the only association solely focused on providing professional development, leadership education, and management training exclusively for physicians. Since its founding in 1975, AAPL has educated 250,000+ physicians across 40 countries—including CEOs, chief medical officers, and physicians at all levels of healthcare.

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