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Catholic health care, organizational identity, services, values, vulnerable populations



  1. White, Kenneth R.
  2. Chou, Tiang-Hong
  3. Dandi, Roberto


Background: Catholic hospitals and health systems comprise a substantial segment of nonprofit, mission-driven, health care services, with accountability to institutional pressures of the Roman Catholic Church as well as economic pressures for solvency. Values are the way in which the organization expresses its faith-based institutional identity, which may used to select services that represent those values.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to identify whether Catholic health systems' explicit values of justice or compassion (and derivatives of those words, known to have similar meaning) were associated with a greater number of system member hospitals' services aimed at vulnerable populations.


Methodology: Using information from Web sites of 41 Catholic health systems in 2007 and data describing their 452 hospitals from the American Hospital Association Annual Survey, the relationship of health system values with hospital services for vulnerable populations was examined while controlling for organizational, market, and demand variables.


Findings: Although Catholic hospitals as a whole are more likely to provide services to vulnerable populations than to other ownership types, the results show that among Catholic hospitals, values of justice or compassion are not associated with more services (defined in this study) that reflect those values. System hospitals likely to have more services that represent the values of justice and compassion are larger, have a higher Medicaid payer mix, are located in less dense urban areas, and are members of geographically dispersed systems.


Practice Implications: Hospitals select services that may represent symbolic system values, but community need and financial means are stronger determinants. To bolster community benefit to justify tax exempt status, Catholic hospitals and systems may benefit from further defining, analyzing, and reporting the impact of access to relatively unprofitable services for previously underserved vulnerable populations.