January 3, 2012; Source: Amarillo Globe-News | This article is interesting for what it reveals about the motivations of a nonprofit hospital to sell, regardless of whether the buyer is a nonprofit or for-profit. In Amarillo, half of the ownership of Baptist St. Anthony’s Health System wants out. BSA is half owned by Christus Health, a Catholic organization, and half owned by Baptist Community Services. Christus apparently wants to sell some or all of its half-interest; Baptist doesn’t.

When one reads about hospital conversions, the coverage tends to emphasize what will happen to the nonprofit assets, what kind of conversion foundation will result, and sometimes how much compensation the executives and board members of the purportedly nonprofit seller will reap. The split nonprofit ownership of BSA—one-half of the ownership apparently is not selling—makes it interesting to explore what is and what isn’t motivating Christus.

One outside observer has suggested that Christus wanted out because of its partial control of the hospital: “That’s probably one of the reasons that they would want to divest themselves of that 50 percent interest, because neither side, the Baptists nor the Catholics, have any kind of full control and that is in many ways a very awkward situation I’m sure.

A Christus spokesperson said that it isn’t an issue of control: “We will look at other markets where we can bring added value and where our expertise and services may be needed to help a hospital or a health system or another service succeed.” A Baptist spokesperson agreed: “It was always pretty smooth sailing. I can’t think of any major issue over the 15 years or so that either member has had with respect to each other. It’s always been a good relationship.” The Christus spokesperson added: “Our values are much more alike than they are different, and I think that’s what’s made it work.”

The Globe-News also said it wasn’t a problem of hospital or Christus’s own finances (Christus had a net operating income of $99.7 million in fiscal 2011, up from $58.5 million in 2010, on assets of $4.1 billion). It‘s not a charity care issue, since Christus’s mission requires that it establish hospital facilities in areas with lower income populations; and it’s not a general attitude toward reducing its ownership of facilities, as it has acquired more facilities in recent years than it has sold, including hospitals in Mexico.

We come away from this story asking, so why does Christus want out?—Rick Cohen