Diocese defended in pension mess; worked only with ‘Catholic identity’

Diocese defended in pension mess; worked only with ‘Catholic identity’

Blessed Pope Paul VI taught: “If you want peace, work for justice.” However, neither peace nor justice can be found without the truth. The truth about the St. Joseph Hospital pension issue has been clouded with misunderstanding. If a just resolution is to be reached, it is crucial to keep some essential facts in mind while this issue plays out on the opinion pages.

It is untrue and unfair to suggest that Bishop Tobin is not living up to his “moral obligation” in this situation. The impetus for the CharterCARE transaction was to save a failing community hospital that was losing millions of dollars per year. The Bishop’s intent and great hope was that the hospital would stay fiscally viable and continue to fulfill its vital mission to the community.

The effort to save the hospital was motivated purely to ensure the ongoing sources of charity care, one of the sole providers of care to the underserved and the poor in the community, and the continued employment of hard-working nurses and staff who had dedicated their careers to the community and Catholic healthcare.

The truth about the CharterCARE transaction is that, for the same reasons that the Bishop supported it, there was widespread and enthusiastic public support from the nurses’ union, the R.I. Attorney General, the R.I. Department of Health, and others involved at the time.

Another truth often neglected in this situation is that after the CharterCARE transaction was complete in 2009, the only role for the diocese and the Bishop was to ensure the Catholic identity of St. Joseph’s and Fatima hospitals: that the chapels were maintained, that pastoral counseling was readily available, and that healthcare services provided were consistent with Catholic teaching. Indeed, even before the CharterCARE transaction, the St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island pension plan was managed and funded by St. Joseph of Health Services of Rhode Island, Inc., an independent non-diocesan corporation.

The 2014 sale of the hospitals was between CharterCARE and Prospect Medical Holdings, the for-profit healthcare corporation. The structure of that sale – including what happened to the pension plan – was not in the control of the Bishop or the diocese. The Bishop’s only role at that time was to continue to preserve Catholicity at the hospitals.

And if truth be told, many parties who now criticize the bishop expressed their full support for the Prospect Medical Holdings takeover in 2014 -– including for the resolution of the pension issue. In fact, the United Nurses and Allied Professionals union leadership highlighted this in their February 2014 newsletter.

At this point in time, Prospect Medical Holdings, a billion dollar for-profit corporation, is the only entity that can improve the condition of the pension fund. The truth of the matter is that any “moral obligation” is to be found in California with Mr. Samuel Lee, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Prospect Medical Holdings, and their board of directors.

While the fallout from the pension issue continues to play out publicly, we continue to hope and pray that the receiver comes to a fair conclusion for the pensioners and their families. We desire only peace and justice for those who served the hospital and community so well for so long. Such a peaceful and just resolution, however, can only be found when the truth is recognized and accurately represented.

The Very Rev. Bernard A. Healey, J.C.L.,S.T.L.

Providence

Father Healey is director, Rhode Island Catholic Conference for the Diocese of Providence.