By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 5, 2012
ATLANTA—Saint Joseph’s Hospital has formed a new venture with Emory Healthcare. As of Jan. 1, it is now part of a joint operating company, which combines Saint Joseph’s with the Emory Johns Creek Hospital, under the Emory Healthcare umbrella.
Emory Healthcare is the majority stakeholder. However, Saint Joseph’s will remain sponsored by its founders, the Sisters of Mercy, “to insure continuation of the Catholic mission and identity,” said a hospital official.
Hospital leaders said the partnership puts the two medical facilities in good standing for the future. Emory and Saint Joseph’s have been working out the details of the joint operating agreement since March 2011.
“We are pleased with the progress of this partnership and look forward to the many benefits it will bring to both organizations and our patients,” said John T. Fox, Emory Healthcare president and chief executive officer.
“The partnership will enable us to expand services, facilitating broader patient access while providing a more cohesive experience through sharing electronic medical records. While this partnership has taken time to develop, I have never been more excited about our future. Emory Healthcare and Saint Joseph’s, two of Atlanta’s oldest, most established and respected centers for health and healing, can now begin the work of enhancing patient care together,” Fox said.
Steve Eaton, chairman of Saint Joseph’s Health System board of trustees, said, “Joining these two organizations is a tremendous accomplishment and one that will benefit generations of Georgians for years to come.”
Patients should see little change at Saint Joseph’s Hospital with regard to its Catholic heritage. After extensive consultation involving canon lawyers and Catholic medical ethicists, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory gave permission for Saint Joseph’s to continue to identify itself as a Catholic hospital.
“The experts engaged in extensive review of the proposed agreement both at its initial stages and as it reached finality. They all concurred that the resulting arrangement fell solidly within Catholic medical norms,” the archbishop said Jan. 2 in a written response to questions about the joint operating agreement.
“I was pleased to grant Catholic identity to this new arrangement since from all professional examinations it was consistent with the Church’s moral teachings,” he wrote.
“Furthermore, the arrangement recognized my authority as the Archbishop of Atlanta to grant or to withdraw such designation both now and in the future should circumstances develop that would require a reexamination of this agreement,” Archbishop Gregory wrote.
Sister Barbara Wheeley, a member of the leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy, South Central Community, said the religious community believes this joint operating company “will strengthen Saint Joseph’s and they will have a very positive future together.”
The congregation will continue as Saint Joseph’s sponsor to “oversee the Catholic mission” of the hospital, she said.
The joint operating agreement concludes a prolonged search by Saint Joseph’s Health System to find a health care partner. As a stand-alone hospital, it had become increasingly difficult for the hospital to compete financially with other hospitals that had the ability to leverage lower purchasing costs and higher insurance reimbursements because they were part of a network.
In terms of the business administration of the new entity, Emory Healthcare will be the managing partner. A search is underway for a new chief executive officer for Saint Joseph’s Hospital, who will report to the president of Emory Healthcare.
As far as its mission, patients will still experience medical care in a Catholic setting. The Sisters of Mercy will continue to serve there. Prayers will start and end the days. Mass will be celebrated. Crucifixes will hang on the walls.
“Everything will be the same,” said Bill Garrett, the president of Saint Joseph’s Mercy Foundation. “From the patient perspective, there will be virtually no difference,” he said.
The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services will be followed by the assets controlled by the joint operating company.
These directives “reaffirm the ethical standards of behavior in health care that flow from the Church’s teaching about the dignity of the human person,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The guidelines from the church uphold the dignity of individuals and prohibit certain procedures the church views as contrary to the Gospel.
Saint Joseph’s Hospital Started With Four Sisters Of Mercy
Saint Joseph’s Hospital started in 1880 when four Sisters of Mercy arrived from Savannah and saw Atlanta was in need of a hospital to tend to the sick and injured. A house at Courtland and Baker streets would become Saint Joseph’s Hospital, the first hospital in the city.
In 1975, Saint Joseph’s moved from downtown Atlanta to Peachtree-Dunwoody Road. Now its dominating medical campus and that of nearby Northside Hospital and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Scottish Rite campus are known as “Pill Hill.”
Saint Joseph’s Hospital is a highly regarded medical facility with specialties in cardiac, vascular and orthopedic services, cancer care and robotics. The hospital has approximately 2,800 employees and is served by 750 physicians.
Emory Healthcare is part of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University. It is the largest health care system in the state, with 1,184 licensed patient beds, 9,000 employees and more than 20 health centers located around the Atlanta area.
Both Emory and Saint Joseph contributed assets to the new venture. The flagship Saint Joseph’s Hospital and related entities, Saint Joseph’s Translational Research Institute and Saint Joseph’s Medical Group, are now part of the joint operating company.
Emory offered its Johns Creek Hospital, a 110-bed hospital with 624 physicians. It offers a range of services, with board-certified emergency physicians, surgery, cardiology, oncology, advanced imaging capabilities and intensive care, according to its website. The medical office building at the hospital is also part of the new entity.
Garrett said the assets were “nearly equal,” but Emory contributed a little bit more, which gives it control of the new company with 51 percent of the vote. The value of the assets is “private information,” he said.
As the new joint operating company took shape, six employees were laid off at Saint Joseph’s Health System, Garrett said. Five of the workers had job opportunities with Emory Healthcare, he said.
Other Saint Joseph’s entities are not part of the new joint operating company.
St. Mary’s Health Care System in Athens took ownership of Saint Joseph’s East Georgia, a 25-bed critical care hospital in Greensboro. St. Mary’s Health Care System is also sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy and is part of Catholic Health East.
The charitable outreach arm of Saint Joseph’s Health System will stand on its own. Mercy Care Services, an outreach of the medical facility to the poor, homeless and uninsured that operates from clinics in metro Atlanta and from mobile medical vans, is not part of the joint operating company. Saint Joseph’s Mercy Foundation is also not part of the new entity.
A 13-member board will oversee the new arrangement between Saint Joseph’s and Emory, with seven representatives appointed by Emory Healthcare and the remaining by Saint Joseph’s. Saint Joseph’s will have super majority voting rights on issues critical to its mission, values and Catholic religious and ethical directives.
Sister Jane Gerety, the president of Salve Regina College, Newport, R.I., and formerly a vice president at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, will represent the Sisters of Mercy on the board.
She said the move to this new entity is a transition for the religion congregation, but they believe it will “strengthen the Catholic hospital, and that is a good thing.”
The hospital staff has embraced the values of the Sisters of Mercy even while the number of sisters working there has decreased, she said.
“The culture there, that has been passed from generation to generation, has been done by the employees. They feel it in their hearts and minds. That will continue,” she said.
Sisters also will be taking a look at how Saint Joseph’s Mercy Foundation can be expanded and what new resources can broaden Mercy Care to serve unmet community needs, she said.
Archbishop Gregory: Catholics Have Been Pioneers In Caring For Sick
Archbishop Gregory said the Sisters of Mercy have distinguished themselves with their “charity, competence and accessibility.”
This new joint operating agreement will “continue that legacy,” he said.
“The landscape of health care in our nation has been shifting for the past generation. Each year seems to generate new opportunities and pose new complications. Just as Catholics have been pioneers in providing a Gospel response to the medical needs of all people since the beginning of the church, so these most recent developments involving Saint Joseph’s Hospital continue that undertaking,” he said.
“There are obviously new challenges and new opportunities in this new collaborative enterprise. I am convinced that everyone involved has been honest, open, and willing to accept and enshrine the principles that must always be present in any Catholic health care institution while being respectful of the legacy of its non-Catholic health care partner. I believe that the resulting joint operating agreement effectively embraces both goals,” he wrote.
This structure “establishes an instrument to allow collaboration in a limited number of areas but without commingling the identity of either entity,” Archbishop Gregory said.
“This is just another example of how the realities of health care institutions continue to evolve and to establish new ways of cooperating without crossing areas that compromise moral/ethical principles or that limit either institution’s uniqueness,” he said.
The joint operating agreement received approval from the state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission, Garrett said. Officials at the Vatican signed off on the plans because the assets were valued at more than $5 million, said Garrett.
Also, the new entity was approved by the Sisters of Mercy and Catholic Health East, the multi-hospital healthcare system where Saint Joseph’s Hospital was affiliated.