The United States health care system as it is presently constituted grew up from the pioneering efforts of Catholic sisters who arrived from Europe in the 18th to 19th centuries in order to provide health care to the sick and the injured in the region. Most of them had little formal training and very little money but volunteered themselves in this noble humanitarian task and in the process risked their lives travelling all over the country in this effort. Eventually, they succeeded in setting up and administering many hospitals and healthcare facilities throughout the country. They were especially life savers during outbreaks of deadly epidemics and armed conflicts. Their health care practices were notably influenced by their religious persuasion and the nature and character of catholic hospitals in those days was taken for granted because it was not the subject of a debate. As of today about 642 hospitals and 1600 other healthcare facilities are run by the Catholic Church in the United States and roughly 17% of patients in the country pass through the Catholic healthcare facilities.
What are the Essential Characteristics of a Catholic Hospital?
About half a century ago, almost all the Catholic Hospitals were run by CEOs that were religious but today only a handful of such hospitals are run by religious CEOs. The structure of the US medical healthcare system has forced the Catholic Health Ministry to collaborate more with non-religious persons and organizations in order to facilitate effective healthcare delivery. More non-religious employees are in the system. This has led to questions being raised as to the true nature of Catholic Hospitals which the earlier generation of Catholic Hospital Administrators and sisters did not have to answer. Some approach this question from a moralistic angle.
It is obvious that the religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are incompatible with some medical practices such as euthanasia, abortion and contraception. Some others view the proliferation of religious pictures and symbols around the premises of Catholic Hospitals as evidence of its Catholicity. However, the most fundamental aspect of the Catholicity of Catholic Hospitals is that they are based on religious commitments to the expression of God’s love and the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Also, the expression of Christian character and ideals in the provision of healthcare is pivotal to what it means to be a Catholic Hospital. Aspects such as the maintenance of human dignity, justice for all, care for the poor and the less privileged as well the sanctity of human life are all cardinal aspects of Catholic Hospitals.