Following reports the Little Company of Mary is negotiating with the ACT government for the sale of Canberra's Calvary Public Hospital, Archbishop Mark Coleridge said his "strong preference" is a Catholic provider remain under a properly funded and re-negotiated service agreement.
"My own strong preference for Calvary Public Hospital would be that a Catholic provider remain but under the terms of a completely re-negotiated service agreement which would ensure proper funding for the hospital in the future and a more effective coordination of services in order to meet the Government's needs and to deal with what may have been points of tension or disagreement in the past," Archbishop Coleridge said in a statement.
"This may be difficult, but is it impossible?
"Given my responsibility to oversee apostolic works undertaken within the Archdiocese, I could not in conscience simply approve a proposal about which I have so many questions.
"My overriding concern is that the people of the ACT be offered the best possible public health care; and I do not believe this proposal will do that, for all that it may be bureaucratically neater. In my view, an important part of ensuring the best possible health care for all ACT citizens is to ensure the continuing presence of a Catholic provider in ACT public health.
"In the end that may not be possible, but in the meantime I am obliged to do all in my power to secure that presence, not in order to push some grasping sectarian line or to promote a narrowly ideological position, but for the sake of the Gospel and the entire community of the ACT."
Archbishop Coleridge said the recent disclosure that the ACT Government and the Little Company of Mary were in negotiations for the Government to buy Calvary Public Hospital had predictably stirred a range of reactions, some of which were better informed than others.
"One historical fact that needs to be kept in mind is that the original agreement was made between the Commonwealth and the Archdiocese. Archbishop O'Brien then entrusted the hospital to the LCM Sisters who acquired ownership at that point. Yet even though the Sisters own the hospital, the Archdiocese is more than a disengaged onlooker to these negotiations, given the nature of the original agreement. As Archbishop, I do not have anything like a final say, but I am consulted and briefed as the one responsible for oversight of the apostolic works undertaken in the Archdiocese, one of the most important of which is health care understood as a continuation of the healing ministry of Christ himself.
"I have then followed the process of negotiation closely for some time. Through that time, I have grown increasingly uneasy about the long process of attrition which has seen Calvary Public Hospital systematically and deliberately deprived of funding by successive ACT governments. Is it just to withhold funding from a hospital which has consistently delivered excellent service to the ACT, a hospital which has comparatively low labour costs, a comparatively higher ratio of nurse per beds and a proven capacity to attract and retain quality staff, a hospital where that mysterious thing 'culture' has so deeply impressed ACT citizens over the years?
"I would also ask how true it is in fact that an aggregation or merger would provide better health care to the people of the ACT, which I presume is what is prompting the Government's proposal. Public health care in this country has thrived on a combination of government and private provision; and there is little evidence that a government bureaucracy can run public hospitals better or more efficiently than private providers. If anything, evidence points to the contrary. To insist upon a single government provider in the ACT seems totalitarian in a way that is alien to the best traditions of health care in this country and at odds with the policies and positions of the current Federal government. Despite the talk of new synergies and savings, I think the proposal could increase the cost of health care in the ACT and diminish its quality. It will also cost the ACT Government a lot of money at a time of deficit budgets, and for little if any gain.
"The Sisters and the Board of LCM have been in a very difficult position for some time, and I understand the claim that they have a stark choice between either accepting what is now on offer from the Government or losing everything eventually. So I am deeply sympathetic to their position, and I have no doubt that they are pursuing the negotiations in the best of good faith. Yet the more I have thought, talked and prayed about the proposed sale of the hospital, the more uneasy I have become.
"I have also become more convinced that public health care is an essential part of Catholic health care in Australia, and that public hospitals are the natural habitat of Catholic health care, for all the difficulties that imposes upon the providers, especially in their dealings with Government. First-class health care is not a commodity for those who can afford to pay but a right to which everyone is entitled, whether they can pay or not. That understanding has always been fundamental to Catholic health care in this country.
"That is why I question whether the proposal to sell the public hospital to the Government is in accord with the mission of Catholic health care or the Little Company of Mary, even though I have heard sincere arguments in support of the claim that the proposal is not only faithful to the mission but inspired by it. Nor am I persuaded that the sale of Calvary Public Hospital would have little or no effect upon Catholic health care elsewhere in Australia, especially at a time like this when there is pressure to drive religion of any kind from the public square into some purely private realm."
Catholic 'preference' for hospital (Canberra-Goulburn News)
Calvary Public Hospital
Canberra Calvary Hospital takeover controversy