[StBernard] Franciscan Missionaries to run hospitals in eastern New Orleans, St. Bernard

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Apr 10 08:18:43 EDT 2012

Franciscan Missionaries to run hospitals in eastern New Orleans, St. Bernard

Published: Monday, April 09, 2012, 7:00 AM Updated: Monday, April 09,
2012, 8:17 AM

By Bruce Nolan, The Times-Picayune

Faith-based hospital medical care, severely reduced in New Orleans for
nearly 20 years, is about to grow again as two Catholic health ministries
prepare to open new or refurbished hospitals and health clinics in St.
Bernard Parish and eastern New Orleans. One ministry is the Baton
Rouge-based Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, which,
although largely unknown around New Orleans, is the largest private hospital
system in Louisiana.

That organization, founded by an order of French Catholic nuns at work in
Louisiana since 1911, plans to manage a new 40-bed public hospital opening
in St. Bernard in August, and an 80-bed community hospital in the soon-to-be
renovated Methodist Hospital in eastern New Orleans late next year.

In addition, the Franciscan Missionaries will be joined in eastern New
Orleans by another order of Catholic nuns, the Daughters of Charity -
veterans of nearly 200 years of nursing in New Orleans.

The Daughters of Charity have reinvented their health ministry since selling
Hotel Dieu Hospital in 1992; they now work with a much lower public profile,
providing families and individuals basic medical care at three neighborhood
sites in New Orleans and East Jefferson.

They plan to open a fourth family-medicine clinic in May in the professional
building next to the former Methodist Hospital, abandoned since Hurricane
Katrina struck in 2005.

In late 2013, the Daughters plan to move into a new building elsewhere on
the property.

Twenty years ago, New Orleans was rich with faith-based hospitals - most of
them Christian, seeking to make enough money to stay in business without
earning profits to distribute to shareholders.

But the 1990s were unkind to stand-alone hospitals. The economics of health
care demanded new efficiencies across the landscape. Consolidation became
the answer.

Today, only Touro Infirmary, founded by Jewish philanthropist Judah Touro in
the mid-19th century, provides local nonprofit hospital care from a platform
of faith-based values.

In 1992, the Daughters of Charity sold their 133-year-old hospital, Hotel
Dieu, to the state, when it became University Hospital. That institution now
functions as Interim LSU Public Hospital.

In 1993, 69-year-old Baptist Hospital, originally affiliated with the
Southern Baptist Convention, disappeared in a series of mergers and sales,
most recently to Ochsner, which restored part of its historic name. The site
now operates as Ochsner-Baptist Medical Center.

In 1995, Mercy Hospital, a 71-year ministry of the Daughters of Mercy,
having temporarily merged with Baptist, disappeared with Baptist in a sale
to Tenet Healthcare Corp.

'Healing ministry'

Although not well known in New Orleans, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our
Lady Health System manages nearly 1,700 hospital beds across the state,
compared to runner-up Ochsner, with about 1,250.

Its flagship is Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, which system
president John Finan said is the largest in the state, with more than 700
licensed beds.

The Franciscans also own major hospitals in Monroe and Lafayette and smaller
hospitals in Gonzales and Napoleonville, as well as housing and long-term
residential care for seniors.

Their arrival in metro New Orleans as managers-for-hire is a new experience
for the organization, Finan said.

The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady traces its beginnings in Louisiana
to six French nuns who emigrated here in 1911.

Today there are only 17 nuns remaining in the state. But seeing their
numbers dwindling, the nuns years ago recruited laypeople to their ministry
and instilled in those lay executives - Catholic and non-Catholic alike -
the particular values that had animated them, Finan said.

"We are first of all about the healing ministry of Jesus, and we find
ourselves in this commercial environment," said Finan in his Baton Rouge
office. "Our work is to care for those most in need, whether physical or
otherwise - and do it in a way that's commercially viable so we can continue

Finan said the organization works hard to create an employee culture,
especially its regard for patients, based on its own reading of the Gospel.

In hiring, "we place a strong emphasis on who we are and why we're here. We
continuously reinforce our mission and our values with our team members,"
Finan said.

That said, the Franciscan health system is merely a contractor in two
secular hospitals.

The public hospital service districts will be the actual employers and will
hire according to norms governed by state law. Nurses, medical technicians
and others will be employed by the district, not the Franciscan

Restrictions on services

But even as contractors, Finan said, the Franciscan Missionaries remains
bound to ethical guidelines promulgated by U.S. Catholic bishops that set
boundaries for some kinds of services.

In some parts of the country, tensions have developed where Catholic
ministries operate public hospitals. In many cases, communities demand
reproductive services such as surgical sterilization that Catholic operators
cannot provide because they violate Catholic teaching.

In some places, including Austin, Texas, Catholic contractors and the
community created a "hospital within the hospital" where such procedures are
performed by separate contractors behind organizational and accounting

But Finan and Dr. Karen DeSalvo, New Orleans' health commissioner, said no
special arrangement will be required here.

The reason: The New Orleans hospital - it still does not have a working name
- will not serve enough people to offer obstetric and gynecological
services, where those procedures would take place.

Although the New Orleans hospital will serve a community of about 77,000,
DeSalvo said the economics of health care are such that that population will
not provide enough births to sustain the investment in equipment and skilled
doctors and nurses to warrant obstetrical service.

"Looking at the numbers, it doesn't make sense to start with OB," DeSalvo
said. "But if the population continues to grow, we can add it later if it
makes sense."

That means Touro will remain the sole provider of deliveries in New Orleans,
DeSalvo said.

In Baton Rouge, Finan said the five-year operating contract with both
hospitals is something of a novelty for the Franciscan Missionaries - a
response to local invitations, not its own strategic initiative.

Finan said time will tell whether the relationship will be renewed.

DeSalvo, the health commissioner, agreed. "We all understand five years is a
long time," she said. "We're comfortable with that. If the quality is there,
I'm sure it'll be a long-term relationship."

Bruce Nolan can be reached at bnolan at timespicayune.com or 504.826.3344.

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