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Saint Francis Health System: A Focus On Integrity

Over the past two years, much has been written on the lack of ethical principles employed by many of the nation's largest for-profit businesses, particularly as it relates to financial reporting. Indeed, it seems not a day goes by where one isn't reminded of just how pervasive, egregious and immoral these acts of commission were, damaging not only the lives of their employees and shareholders but also the communities in which they reside.

Generally speaking, it is true that most organizations (that is to say, for-profit organizations) have as a central tenet a responsibility to maximize the wealth of their respective shareholders. Many, however, as evidenced by the recent scandals at Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, have gone about these activities in ways that call into question not just the ethical fiber of these companies but, on a much broader level, the entire notion of integrity in the workplace.

Ethical business decision making, regardless of the type of business, cannot be simply theory or merely a "code of ethics" posted along hallways. Ethical business decision-making must be applied, it must be visible and it must be made mandatory throughout the organization. Indeed, one need not look any further than the recent passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to recognize and appreciate the importance of ethical conduct in the life of any organization.

Though not a publicly traded institution that is accountable to the needs and will of stockholders, the Saint Francis Health System is and must always operate in ways that are above reproach. In other words, as a faith-based healthcare ministry, one guided by the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church, the Saint Francis Health System must exhibit and encourage honesty, consistency and predictability in all its dealings, focusing always on our value of integrity.

Notwithstanding the many technological strides made in medicine in recent years, healthcare unfortunately has not been immune from the recent wave of public accounting scandals discussed and criticized by thousands nationwide. Indeed, the recent allegations brought against HealthSouth typifies the nation's growing concern with the ways in which organizations are managed and led. And it is in this context that many have begun to question the consistency, appropriateness and legality with which nonprofit hospital billing and collection practices have been applied to various patient groups. The issue pertains to inappropriate collection efforts taken by a few providers-behaviors that run counter to our mission and to this organization's values of:

  • Justice
  • Excellence
  • Dignity
  • Integrity
  • Stewardship

Central to these concerns are issues based in integrity. Are nonprofit hospitals acting in ways consistent with their charitable purpose? And are nonprofit hospitals operating in a manner that is ethical? With the exception of a few, it would seem that nonprofit providers are in fact living up to these obligations.

This past fall, Saint Francis Health System set into place provisions that would (1) increase the organization's ability to offer charity care to those less fortunate and (2) provide those lacking healthcare coverage with discounted care to lessen the burden and anxiety often caused by healthcare expenses. Both initiatives, in my view, exemplify this organization's desire to work with the community in a spirit of compassion and honesty. Indeed, I think it is important to note that these programs are not "new"-these programs have been in place at Saint Francis for many years.