07 January 2010

Is Exempla Lutheran A Deceptive Trade Name?

Exempla Lutheran hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colorado is now controlled by Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, the same Roman Catholic religious order that operates Saint Mary's hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, and is operated according to the principles of a Catholic hospital regarding reproductive health care.

Hospital operator Exempla cleaned house Wednesday, announcing the dismissal of five top executives.

The firings come in the wake of a Catholic health organization taking control of Exempla Lutheran and Exempla Good Samaritan medical centers.

In a memo issued Wednesday to employees and physicians, Exempla board chairman William Murray said the board had decided to terminate Jeff Selberg, chief executive of Exempla Healthcare; Bob Malte, chief executive of Wheat Ridge-based Exempla Lutheran; . . .

The Kansas-based Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth recently assumed control of Lutheran and Good Samaritan in a controversial transfer from the hospitals' previous sponsor, Community First Foundation.

Sisters of Charity will run the hospitals under Catholic ethical and religious directives that prohibit some services previously provided, such as abortion, vasectomy, tubal ligation and distribution of contraception.

Some health care and community groups have fought the transfer because of the imposition of religious directives and the loss of local control.

"After considerable thought, we have concluded that certain leadership changes are in the best interests of the organization," Murray said in the memo. "The board initiated these changes as a means to further integrate (Sisters of Charity) and Exempla leadership.

"While change can be unsettling, some is expected during times of organizational transfer," Murray said.

Another doctrinal difference between Roman Catholic health care, and health care provided by hospitals with different affiliations, concerns end of life care.

Certainly, the Sisters of Charity have every right to operate hospitals, and subject to generally applicable public health regulations, to provide the services that they see fit at those hospitals.

But, isn't it deceptive for the Sisters of Charity to market what is a de facto Roman Catholic hospital as "Exempla Lutheran" hospital, a name that conceals from donors and prospective patients, rather directly, the fact that the hospital is operated according to Roman Catholic principles?

Lutheran hospitals generally provide reproductive health services on a very similar basis to hospitals operated on a secular basis, and Lutheran hospital in Wheat Ridge did so before control over it was acquired by the Sisters of Charity. Yet, the name Exempla Lutheran gives patients no warning of this fact, and hospital patients, given the frequent urgency of their conditions (a majority of hospital admissions in the United States are through the emergency room) frequently don't have the time or ability to determine that a hospital called a Lutheran hospital, is in fact a Catholic hospital.

The website for Exempla Lutheran likewise provides no meaningful warning of this fact, although an oblique reference to the involvement of the Sisters of Charity in the management of the hospital can be found on a secondary page of the website. The website for the supporting charity for Lutheran is arguably even worse, strongly implying that one is supporting a Lutheran church affliated entity and making no references that I could locate to the Roman Catholic order controlled management of the institution.

Even if a patient who goes to Exempla Lutheran for reproductive health services then learns that those services are not available because of the institution's Roman Catholic operating principles, that patient is sure to be particularly irked at having been deceived.

The current name is not a far stretch from the anti-abortion activist tactic of wearing "bright orange vests that say things like "Pro-Choice Clinic Escort" while outside clinics offering abortions in an attempt to deceive people heading their for visits to secure abortions.

Indeed, a federal court in Colorado is currently deciding a related issue: whether it is constitutional to prohibit knowingly making a false statement of fact concerning whether one has been awarded a military award, in a context where that false statement was used for charitable fundraising.

Donors to a Lutheran hospital similarly, rightly expect that they are advancing an arm of their own religious denomination when they make a charitable gift to it, rather than an arm of a different denomination that the Lutheran denomination came into existence for the very purpose of opposing.

While it is one thing to tell the religious operators of a hospital how to run it, it is quite another to insist that the name of its hospital at least not be affirmatively deceptive to the public. The name "Exempla Wheat Ridge," for example, while not affirmatively stating that it was a Roman Catholic institution, would at least not affirmatively give the false impression that it was operated according to Lutheran rather than Roman Catholic principles.

Better yet, the hospital could be renamed after a Roman Catholic saint, as is customary for a Roman Catholic hospital. Surely there are legions of suitable and deserving Roman Catholic saints out there who do not have their fair share of hospitals named after them.

For that matter, even Exempla Hospital Formerly Known As Lutheran Hospital (in the tradition of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) would at least give people dealing with the hospital fair warning that inquiry regarding the institution's affiliation was necessary and appropriate.

Any of these choices would be more fair to prospective patients, more fair to prospective charitable donors, and would further the current management's desire to "integrate (Sisters of Charity) and Exempla" as a result of the "organizational transfer" that has taken place, in the best interests of the organization.

What private entities have considerable freedom to name themselves, names that are affirmatively deceptive (e.g. including the name "bank" in an entity that isn't a bank) have been prohibited in other contexts.

1 comment:

Michael Malak said...

The ownership of Exempla Lutheran is too complicated for me to understand.

But it is ironic (or perhaps intentionally deceptive) that the Sisters of Mercy are holding fast against abortions, for in Ireland they worked with the Irish government to kidnap children so that they could be physically and sexually abused.