Purposefulness proves key to promoting Catholic identity after for-profit conversion

June 1, 2016


New ownership, partnership and affiliation structures emerging under health care reform are changing the composition of some ministry providers: The "new normal" includes Catholic facilities owned by secular systems, secular facilities owned by Catholic systems and countless types of affiliations in between.

The new structures have ministry providers asking themselves important questions about what it means for an organization to be Catholic and, in cases in which Catholic identity and mission is retained after an ownership change, about how to ensure that the strong identity and mission is preserved and properly communicated regardless of the ownership structure.

Over the past year, the Sisters of Charity Health System of Cleveland navigated such questions as it ensured the preservation of the Catholic identity of two hospitals that the system sold to an other-than-Catholic organization. The local bishop had strongly supported maintaining the Catholic identity, and the Sisters of Charity system secured the buyer's agreement and ensured that appropriate language to this effect was included in the contractual agreements for the sale.

The Sisters of Charity system transferred the ownership of its Providence Hospitals of Columbia, S.C., to the publicly traded LifePoint Health of Brentwood, Tenn., in February. During an Innovation Forum session at the Catholic Health Assembly June 6, two communications executives from the Sisters of Charity system will explain how that system helped prepare the for-profit buyer of the two Sisters of Charity hospitals to promote the hospitals' Catholic identity and mission.



Susanna Krey, senior vice president, external affairs, outreach and foundation ministries for the Sisters of Charity system, said, "The Sisters of Charity Health System communications team knew our communications plan for the Providence Hospitals transaction needed to include steps to educate LifePoint about how to promote Catholic identity. And that is the focus of our presentation." Presenting with Krey at the assembly will be Heather Stoll, vice president of external affairs for the Sisters of Charity system.

Founded by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, the Sisters of Charity system currently includes two Catholic hospitals, three grant-making foundations, two long-term care organizations and six health and human services organizations — the vast majority of which are in Ohio.

New owner
The Sisters of Charity system said it had sought a new owner for the 247-bed Providence Hospital and the 74-bed Providence Orthopedic Hospital, both in Columbia, in order to advance the hospitals' strong market position and growth "amid nation-wide challenges and changes in the health care industry." Both Catholic and other-than-Catholic systems were considered.

LifePoint emerged as the preferred option, the Catholic system said. LifePoint will be able to provide the hospitals with new resources to improve its market position and to grow, according to information from a press release Providence issued last summer announcing the deal. LifePoint currently has 72 hospital campuses in 22 states as well as a network of long-term care and outpatient sites.

Under the ownership transfer, the Providence Hospitals converted from not-for-profit to for-profit status. LifePoint has agreed to retain the facilities' names and maintain at a minimum the same level of charity care as was provided under the Sisters of Charity system. The hospitals will remain Catholic through adherence to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of the Diocese of Charleston, S.C. — who expressed strong enthusiasm in a February statement that the Providence facilities remain Catholic — will provide oversight of these elements of the arrangement. Joan Bumpus, the hospitals' vice president of mission and ministry, remains in that position, with the Sisters of Charity system providing mission and ministry services to Providence.

Laying the foundation
Krey and Stoll told Catholic Health World that the Sisters of Charity communications staff prioritized preparing the new owners to carry on the Catholic identity because appropriately communicating an organization's identity is a way of conveying that organization's accountability to the community.

Fr. Alexander "Sandy" McDonald, pastor of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Columbia, S.C., speaks at a February reception to mark Providence Hospitals' transition to LifePoint ownership. The reception was at Providence Hospital Northeast, a campus of Providence Hospitals of Columbia.

Even before the organizations signed a letter of intent in July 2015, the communications teams of the Sisters of Charity system, the Providence Hospitals and LifePoint began holding weekly conference calls — those calls continued through the close of the transaction. During the calls, the Sisters of Charity system and Providence communicators conveyed the importance of promoting Catholic identity, and how it is done.

Krey and Stoll explained that over the course of about a year, they and their colleague Rebecca Gallant, who is system director of communications, and other communicators with Providence Hospitals and LifePoint worked closely together on transaction communications efforts. With the input and involvement of the three organizations' senior leadership and mission representatives, they held internal meetings and conversations; distributed letters to employees, community members and others; circulated press releases and statements; handled media outreach; and held a community reception — all related to the ownership transition.

The activity was driven and undergirded by a transition plan and guidelines developed by the Sisters of Charity system and Providence communications and mission and ministry teams and senior leadership. This group created guidelines called "Core Communication Components to Convey Catholic Identity." Those guidelines include information on why it is important to preserve Catholic identity; symbols of Catholicity in a hospital, including displayed crucifixes; how identity is conveyed through traditions like holiday observances; how to remain connected with Catholic Church leadership; how to communicate internally and externally about the identity; and how all departments in a Catholic organization are responsible for promoting the identity. The guidelines document also includes case studies, illustrating how Catholic messages can be woven into statements and materials.

Stoll said the communicators and mission team members from the Sisters of Charity system and Providence had themselves been formed through orientation to the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine charism, written and verbal teaching from those sisters, studying the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services and accessing CHA resources. And, so, in developing the guidelines for the transition, they used all these resources. They also drew upon best practices in the communications field, including case studies on brand changes as well as examples of communications materials produced by ministry hospitals nationwide.

Last fall, the Sisters of Charity system communications team hosted a meeting at LifePoint's headquarters that included Sisters of Charity system and Providence senior executives, communicators and mission executives and more than 20 LifePoint leaders. The LifePoint attendees included top executives as well as leaders from LifePoint's communications, business development, human resources, transition and physician relations departments. Sr. Judith Ann Karam, CSA, congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and chair of CSA Health System Ministries, the public juridic person of the system, was one of the executives who attended the meeting.

During the gathering, the Sisters of Charity system communications team presented the guidelines they'd developed and led a discussion about communicating Catholic identity.

The Sisters of Charity system communications team also arranged a visit to Mount Augustine, the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, for six LifePoint leaders and communicators. They talked with the sisters, heard about their ministries and visited their archives to understand their charism. Sr. Karam led the visit.

Krey said when ministry communicators and other leaders attend the assembly session on the transition process for the hospitals, "it will be an opportunity to see a real-life example of how to engage new partners in carrying out a communications plan to promote Catholic identity."


Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.