December 2002

Study Shows Importance of Catholic Hospitals to Nation’s Health Care Safety Net


Our Lady of the Way Hospital featured in Catholic Health Association study

"The nation’s health care system has to step up and see if it can help with the process and protect smaller rural hospitals’ ability to stay in and serve their communities." Patricia A. Cahill, Esq., President and Chief Executive Officer

Our Lady of the Way Hospital, Martin, Ky., plays a key role in a new study, released by the Catholic Health Association (CHA), that highlights the nation’s Catholic hospitals as a primary source of care for the poor and uninsured. Our Lady of the Way was one of seven hospitals and the only rural facility selected for the study, "A Commitment to Caring: The Role of Catholic Hospitals in the Health Care Safety Net." CHA commissioned the study, which was conducted by the Georgetown University Institute for Health Care Research and Policy.

The study found that meeting the needs of vulnerable populations is ingrained into the culture, heritage and identity of Our Lady of the Way and other Catholic hospitals. "Everyone at Our Lady of the Way embraces our mission to treat every person who walks in, regardless of ability to pay," said Kathy Stumbo, president and chief executive officer of Our Lady of the Way. "In the absence of universal health care coverage, the poor and uninsured must rely on Our Lady of the Way and other safety net providers."

Our Lady of the Way, a 25-bed critical access hospital, operates a 24-hour Level 3 emergency room, six rural health clinics and numerous specialty clinics. The hospital provides 25 to 30 percent of the uncompensated care in the area, where more than 16 percent of local residents are uninsured.

The adequacy of the health care safety net is receiving national attention as a result of increased financial pressure in the industry and growing needs among the poor and uninsured. The CHA study maintains that Catholic hospitals share the financial burden of public safety net hospitals due to reduced Medicaid payment rates and increased competition.

Patricia A. Cahill, Esq., president and chief executive officer of Catholic Health Initiatives, noted that rural hospitals need better reimbursement to survive. "The nation’s health care system has to step up and see if it can help with the process and protect smaller rural hospitals’ ability to stay in and serve their communities," she said.

The study also details the wide range of health services Catholic hospitals provide. For example, Our Lady of the Way offers more than 70 community health education programs and is a leading provider of health screenings, health education and disease prevention programs in eastern Kentucky. During fiscal year 2001, the hospital provided $3.2 million in community benefit. "Our goal is to proactively help people live healthier lives through our outreach programs," said Stumbo. "For example, since we implemented our teen pregnancy prevention program in 1995, more than 400 girls have completed the program and there have been only three teen pregnancies among the participants."