No decreased ministry at Baptist hospitals, administrators insist

Baptist Emergency Hospital in North Central San Antonio is one of five neighborhood-oriented, emergency medical treatment facilities Baptist Health System opened in 2012.

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SAN ANTONIO—Tenet Healthcare’s plan to buy Vanguard Health Systems for $1.8 billion will not result in decreased Christian ministry at Baptist Health System in San Antonio, senior administrators insist.

Valley Baptist Health Systems issued a statement July 3 offering assurances regarding it continuing mission as “a faith-based health system.”

The planned sale—to be finalized around the end of the year—will expand Dallas-based Tenet’s holdings to 79 hospitals and 157 outpatient facilities.

Robert Wilkens, a San Antonio artist, creates his “Healing Hands” painting, symbolizing the compassionate care provided by Baptist Health System.Ironically, the pending sale will bring under the same corporate umbrella two Baptist hospital systems that could not reach an agreement to join forces more than a decade ago.

Messengers to the 2002 Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting in Waco approved the sale of financially troubled Baptist Health System of San Antonio to the for-profit Vanguard after a deal could not be reached to sell it to Valley Baptist Health System, in spite of appeals to “keep it in the Baptist family.”

Vanguard agreed to pay $174 million to reduce long-term debt and an additional $28 million for debt due in 2003. Vanguard also agreed to spend $200 million in capital improvements in five years and provide $100 million to establish Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio.

Maintain ministry

In order for Vanguard to continue to use the “Baptist” name, the system agreed to maintain and enhance chaplaincy ministries and create a vice president-level position for mission and ministry, provide charity care at no less than the 2002 level and maintain strict policies against abortions in keeping with BGCT positions.

“Those commitments will remain in effect,” said Graham Reeve, chief executive officer of Baptist Health System. “All the agreements will remain in place, just as they have for the last 10 years.”

Baptist Health System has a long heritage of providing faith-based health care and a longstanding relationship with Texas Baptists, he added, saying, “I don’t see that changing.”

Charity care

Charity care provided by Baptist Health System increased from $16 million in 2003 to $53 million in 2012.

George Gaston, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, has served since July 2003 as vice president for mission and ministry. In that role, he has supervised the hospital system’s pastoral care and clinical pastor education programs.

Gaston will retire Aug. 31, but Baptist Health System will fill his position, he said.

“We are going ahead with the search process. There is no delay at all,” he added.

The BGCT will continue to elect a significant portion of the Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio board, and three trustees from that board will continue to serve on the Baptist Health System board of directors, said Cody Knowlton, president and CEO of the foundation.

Baptist Health Foundation “is grateful for the strong partnership it has had with Vanguard Health Systems over the last 10 years and looks forward to a bright future with Tenet Healthcare as we maintain the Christ-centered mission of the 110-year-old Baptist hospital in San Antonio,” he said.

Grants to non-profits

Since its creation, Baptist Health Foundation has awarded 551 grants worth about $37 million to nonprofit agencies and ministries—particularly entities that provide healthcare services and health education in the San Antonio area and surrounding counties.

Valley Baptist Health System, with hospitals in Harlingen and Brownsville, also operates under a joint agreement with Vanguard.

In 2008, Valley Baptist Health System sustained significant damage and service interruption due to Hurricane Dolly—problems that led to a financial crunch. The health system could not maintain the cash balance its lenders required, and its bank told the system to develop a recapitalization campaign. Consequently, the hospital system entered a joint venture with Vanguard two years ago.

Valley Baptist issued the following statement regarding in light of Vanguard’s pending purchase by Tenet:  “Valley Baptist has been a faith-based health system for the past 90 years, and this commitment to our mission will continue. The community service started by the Sisters of Mercy when they opened Mercy Hospital in 1923, and by  Lower Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association in 1925 with the opening of Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen remains a key component of the Valley Baptist Health System mission.”

“Valley Baptist has always had an unwavering dedication to the communities we serve, and this same dedication will remain the same moving forward,” Valley Baptist Health System President and CEO Manny Vela said.

“The planned purchase would continue the joint venture agreement that Valley Baptist has with Vanguard, with 49 percent remaining in the hands of the Valley Baptist Service Corporation and the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. We look forward to this new partnership,” added Alan Johnson, president and CEO of these two entities.

Editor’s Note:  After his article originally was posted July 1, it was edited July 4 to include the statement issued by Valley Baptist Health System.

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