Sisters of Charity and healthcare

 

Sir, – Having closely followed the business affairs of the Sisters of Charity and St Vincent’s Healthcare Group over the past few years in relation to the proposed relocation of the National Maternity Hospital to their Elm Park campus, I read with concern Patsy McGarry’s report on the sudden closure of three of their nursing and convalescent homes, St Monica’s, St Mary’s and Caritas (News, August 18th). It is clear that much distress is being caused to residents, their families and staff.

Separately, Ray Mangan and Aodhan O’Faolain report that an application for liquidation of the three homes has been made “due to an inability to meet statutory and regulatory requirements to operate at full capacity or fund costs” (“Residents in nursing home facing closure ‘particularly vulnerable’”, News, August 17th).

Yet it is clear from both reports that all three homes are profitable and have substantial combined bank balances of €1.145 million.

The HSE and HIQA have both indicated a willingness to work with the sisters to keep the homes operational.

Furthermore, in 2017 and 2018 – the most recent years for which accounts are available – the Sisters of Charity received €2.4 million in rent from St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) in which they are the 100 per cent shareholders, €300,000 from St Vincent’s Private Hospital and €1.5 million from SVHG in relation to the purchase of a leasehold. That is €4.2 million in total.

In addition, the Sisters of Charity own the land occupied by Elm Park Golf Club. In the same two years, the club paid around €300,000 in rent and rates.

Two further companies, Dubki Ltd and Pianora Ltd, control the carparks at the hospitals and are owned by the Sisters of Charity.

In May 2017, the Sisters announced their intention to relinquish their shareholding in SVHG in order to facilitate the building of the new National Maternity Hospital.

Yet over three years later the Sisters remain the 100 per cent shareholders of SVHG. Permission from the Vatican is required for the transfer to a new entity (called alienation in canon law). On May 8th this year, the Sisters of Charity announced that if their alienation is successful they will transfer all their assets in SVHG into a new private charity to be called St Vincent’s Holdings CLG for a consideration of one euro. In 2018 Cushman & Wakefield valued these assets at €661 million.

The complicated nature of the Sisters various healthcare holdings clearly illustrates the problematic interface between the State and religious congregations in the ownership and provision of healthcare services in Ireland.

The State pays hundreds of millions annually to the various institutions owned by the Sisters of Charity for the provision of services.

It is only right that it should have appropriate oversight of how they are governed and managed.

Given the large sums of public money involved and public disquiet about St Mary’s, St Monica’s, Caritas and the National Maternity Hospital transfer, this seems an opportune time for the Sisters of Charity to consider transferring their assets to the State rather than to a private charity.

This would follow the model of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, both of which are now owned and operated by the State.

Given the stated intention of the Sisters of Charity to transfer their assets in SVHG for just one euro, this would be of immense benefit to the people of Ireland at a very difficult juncture for the health service as a consequence of Covid-19. It would have a secondary benefit of finally assuaging concerns about the potential for Catholic ethos to adversely impact women’s reproductive healthcare at the new National Maternity Hospital. – Yours, etc,

Dr PETER BOYLAN,

MAO, FRCPI, FRCOG,

(Former Master,

National Maternity

Hospital),

Dublin 6.