Interim Chief of Merged Hospitals Discusses Change
Some six weeks after Bishop John McGann of the Roman Catholic Rockville Centre Diocese shocked the Catholic hospital world on Long Island by relieving all board members of their duties, the Bishop's interim appointee to head the merged hospitals spoke about the changed situation.
The last week in October, Bishop McGann summoned the 125 board members of the four Catholic hospitals on Long Island and announced that the boards would be dissolved at once. The hospitals are St. Francis-the Heart Center, in Roslyn; Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre; St. Charles Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Port Jefferson and the Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip. The Bishop told the astonished former board members that the four hospitals would be brought into a newly created system, Catholic Health Services of Long Island, which, he said, was being started to protect the church's mission of caring for the poor and medically indigent. Named interim president and chief executive officer of the new entity is Ronald R. Aldrich, a health care professional who says he will remain on the job until April of 1998 while a search committee looks for a permanent replacement. After dismissing the four hospitals' boards, Bishop McGann named an interim board, consisting of his two adjutant bishops, the four heads of the religious congregations that founded the hospitals, and his secretary for health affairs, Msgr. Alan J. Placa. By the time this article appears, a new board of 21 members should be in place. It will consist of Msgr. Placa, Mr. Aldrich, three representatives of each hospital, one of whom will be a physician, and seven individuals from the community at large. Mr. Aldrich said that among those seven may be some women religious, adding that the Bishop will seek "gender and age diversity."
Mr. Aldrich has spent 25 years in the administration of Catholic hospitals, in several cases having been called upon to supervise mergers in some respects similar to the present one.
Citing the recent decision in which Judge Arthur D. Spatt of Federal District Court in Uniondale ruled against a Justice Department move to block the merger of North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Mr. Aldrich said that "consolidation will continue to occur." The creation of Catholic Health Services was "necessary but not sufficient," he said, and Catholic hospitals will have to "partner" with others. Among other hospitals to which the Bishop's representatives have been talking are Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, Mather, Brookhaven, Stony Brook and Peconic in Suffolk. Rockville Centre is also actively pursuing collaboration with the health systems of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of New York.
Here on the north shore, the greatest aftershock of Bishop McGann's original announcement resulted from the dismissal of the St. Francis board members and, even more, of its chief executive officer, Dr. Robert Vizza. Many people credit Dr. Vizza with having built St. Francis into a nationally recognized hospital. Several years ago he formed an alliance with Columbia Presbyterian Hospital to make St. Francis a teaching affiliate of the Manhattan institution and last year he announced an agreement with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to provide treatment at Mercy and screening and education at St. Francis.
Asked whether, in the consolidation of the four Catholic hospitals on Long Island, St. Francis was not the heavyweight, Mr. Aldrich demurred. "Each has unique strengths," he said. Good Samaritan is equally successful and St. Charles is famous for rehabilitation. The strength St. Francis has is as a regional and national resource. The merger will not diminish that strength." He added that these are four different institutions and the Bishop has "no desire to make cookie cutters."
The St. Francis Hospital board had created an entity known as the "St. Francis Foundation" to which much of the funds raised by its volunteers have been given. "The very strong board at the St. Francis Foundation will continue," Mr. Aldrich said, "not as a fiduciary board but as a board that makes recommendations. The foundation money will stay with St. Francis. Bob Vizza will continue at the foundation for a period of time. He will continue to be based at the DeMatteis Center of St. Francis Hospital in Brookville."
Turning to Bishop McGann's reference to the Catholic hospitals' responsibility to the poor, Mr. Aldrich said that this in no way was a negative comment on the work that the four hospitals have been doing, but rather a re-statement of the church's moral obligation to the most needy among us. He added that the recent welfare reforms have put pressure on the health care system.
Mr. Aldrich believes the United States will eventually have some form of universal health care and considers the defeat of the Clinton administration's health plan to be a "tragedy."
Returning to the further consolidation of Catholic hospitals with others, he said that there will be issues that will have to be dealt with, not just reproductive issues, but, with the aging of the population, of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. He said that the recent Supreme Court decision appears to indicate that the justices will treat these as state issues, to be decided state by state. According to Mr. Aldrich, the eastern part of the country is more conservative on these issues than states like California and Washington.
As to future fund raising for the hospitals, Mr. Aldrich said that in similar situations, initially he has seen some fall off, but it tends to rebound quickly. "With any major change," he said, " some people will decide that's not where they want to be and we must respect that decision. There must be a process of healing."