Patients and employees at Alegent Health hospitals should see few changes after a shift in oversight of the health system, Alegent's president and CEO said Monday.
One change they will see: “Direct sterilizations,” or sterilizations performed for the purpose of preventing conception, no longer will be performed at any Alegent hospital.
Immanuel, a group affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, announced Monday that it will end its 125-year mission of hospital care in Omaha by the end of 2012 to focus on nonhospital elder care.
Since Alegent began operating in 1996, Immanuel and Catholic Health Initiatives have been 50-50 sponsors of the system. With the shift, Immanuel Medical Center and the nine other Alegent Health System hospitals will be overseen solely by Catholic Health Initiatives.
Rick Hachten, Alegent's president and CEO, said that although Immanuel Medical Center will maintain its “Lutheran heritage,” Alegent hospitals after the changeover will adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which were issued in 1994 by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. One of the directives states: “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution when its sole immediate effect is to prevent conception.”
Kevin Lofton, president and CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives, said patients will be able to work with their health care providers to find other area hospitals where such services are provided.
From July 1, 2011, through May 31, 2012, direct sterilizations were performed on 292 inpatients at Alegent's non-Catholic hospitals — Immanuel Medical Center in north-central Omaha, Lakeside Hospital in west Omaha and Midlands Hospital in Papillion, said Kelly Grinnell, an Alegent spokeswoman.
Hachten said Alegent's current employee benefits don't cover birth control or sterilization, so the sponsorship change won't affect that.
As part of the transfer to full Catholic Health Initiatives sponsorship, officials said, Immanuel will receive substantial financial resources to expand its network of services for the elderly across Nebraska and Iowa.
Immanuel owns and operates five independent- and assisted-living retirement campuses in Omaha, Papillion and Lincoln. It recently opened its first Immanuel Pathways in Council Bluffs and plans a second one near 56th Street and Sorensen Parkway in Omaha. Those adult day care centers offer a range of services to support the elderly who can remain in their own homes, through the federal Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.
Immanuel already is a leader in senior care, and officials want to build on that, said Eric Gurley, its president and CEO.
The demand for senior care will continue to grow, Gurley said, with 10,000 Americans per day turning 65. Communities across the country aren't prepared to meet that need, he said.
Gurley said 3 percent to 5 percent of senior citizens end up living in a communal environment, assisted living or a more institutional nursing setting.
“Ninety-five percent are staying home,” he said. “As we move into the future, Immanuel wants to be well-positioned to provide services into the home to keep people as independent as possible and offer communal alternatives for folks that choose that lifestyle.”
Immanuel will continue its close coordination with Alegent's hospitals and also partner with other hospitals to provide the after-hospital care called for by the 2010 federal health care law, Gurley said.
Gurley and Jim Olmsted, chairman of Immanuel's board of directors, said the decision wasn't related to the coming sale of Creighton University Medical Center to Alegent or to differences between Catholicism and Lutheranism.
Before reaching their decision, Immanuel's leaders carried out an 18-month “discernment process” to examine its future direction, Gurley said.
Immanuel's mission has evolved over the years, he said. Its original mission included caring for and educating orphans, a task assumed by the foster care system, schools and other agencies.
In recent years, Gurley said, Immanuel's involvement in operating the hospitals essentially transferred to Alegent, even though it officially was a sponsor of those hospital operations.
“I think that it draws a lot of our resources, our human talent to perform our sponsorship duties,” he said. “So the benefit will be to align our resources better with the initiatives outlined by Immanuel.”
Immanuel and Catholic Health Initiatives will work over the next several months to end their previous relationship.
Immanuel has six members on Alegent's 12-member governing board. Gurley said that would drop to two members, so Immanuel would retain a voice in Alegent.
“After a long, long history of service to the community through acute care, there's a sadness and a pause to mark this point on our timeline,” he said. “We've been in the hospital business, either directly or indirectly, for the past 125 years, so that certainly doesn't pass without some reflection.”
Gurley said the amount of money to be transferred hasn't been determined and will be the subject of the separation process. He said the two groups would operate under a new agreement to ensure that they work closely together in the future. The transfer process was outlined in the original sponsorship agreement between the two.
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• Dec. 20, 1890: Immanuel Hospital, 4516 N. 34th St., opens its doors to its first patient a man who came down from the Black Hills to be cured of an eye inflammation.
• January 1910: Opening of the second Immanuel Hospital at 34th Street and Meredith Avenue. The hospital is one of a group of buildings that form the Immanuel Deaconess Institute.
• May 1926: A third Immanuel Hospital opens at 34th and Meredith Avenue. The present hospital building is to be used as a home for invalids and incurables.
• December 1940: The 50th anniversary of the establishment of Immanuel Hospital.
• February 1969: Immanuel Hospital and its seven interconnected medical units are renamed Immanuel Medical Center, the second name change in four years. At the time of the Lutheran Church mergers in 1965, the name Immanuel Inc. was adopted.
• June 1974: New Immanuel Hospital and adjacent Community Mental Health Center open at 72nd Street and Redick Avenue. This is the fourth Immanuel hospital.
• January 1982: Immanuel Village opens. The village provides housing and services for people older than 65 who no longer want to keep up a house.
• 1996: Bergan Mercy Health System, Immanuel Healthcare Systems come together to form Alegent Health.
-- Jeanne Hauser