“In 2007 there were eight Catholic acute care hospitals in New York City. By the end of 2008 there was only one.”
This is the opening line of an article in America magazine by Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a Franciscan brother who holds the Sisters of Charity Chair of Ethics at St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan and is professor of medicine and director of the Bioethics Institute of New York Medical College in Valhalla.
A real grabber of a lead.
In the article — entitled “Then There Was One: The Unraveling of Catholic Health Care” — Sulmasy explains one of the most overlooked changes in Catholic life in New York. I mean, how many Catholic New Yorkers are even vaguely aware that Catholic hospitals have been falling like a row of dominoes?
The one left, by the way, is Sulmasy’s: St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan.
Sulmasy delves into the complex factors that have undermined Catholic health care, such as weak Catholic philanthropy. He writes: “It is a great irony: Catholics complain that they do not influence culture, but when they have the resources to make a difference, they tend not to support the institutions that can achieve influence.”
He also cites 1950s-style Catholic parochialism in the running of Catholic institutions. Not to mention poor political connections.
And he blames weak Catholic leadership: “It seems that in the current ecclesiastical climate, one succeeds not by one’s accomplishments but by not making mistakes.”
Sulmasy also suggests that Catholics are less interested in preserving Catholic institutions and are quite happy making use of quality, secular hospitals. He laments this shift: “Excellence and compassion are not antithetical. Catholic institutions can offer both in a truly distinctive way.”
In the end, he calls for fighting to save Catholic institutions, including hospitals: “Catholic institutions help to nourish the faith of those who work in them and are served by them.”
It’s ironic that New York Medical College, a medical school that describes itself as being “in the Catholic tradition” and where Sulmasy plays important roles, may soon be taken over by a non-Catholic college.