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Health law challenges new hospital exec

Richard Sullivan, the new CEO of Catholic Health

Richard Sullivan, the new CEO of Catholic Health Services at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre. (Jan. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Like all hospital leaders, Richard Sullivan, the newly named chief executive of Catholic Health Services of Long Island, is facing the challenges of the new federal health care law.

"The fundamental issue is how to provide consistently high quality care most efficiently," he said this week. "Most of the money from the Affordable Care Act is taken out of the hide of the hospitals."

But the deeply devout head of the $2.2 billion health care system, who illustrates his points with stories from the Gospel, believes his task is harder than most.

"As a Catholic, faith-based health system in an extraordinarily secular environment . . . we're rowing upstream," he said.

This is Sullivan's second time at the oars. Chairman of the board of directors for more than 11 years, Sullivan, 62, served as CHS' executive chairman from July 2011 to April 2012 after James Harden retired. He was part of the search committee that hired Lawrence McManus from a Catholic health network in New Haven to succeed Harden to run the system's six hospitals, three nursing homes and a home health agency.

But eight months later, the board voted to replace McManus with Sullivan. Sullivan is taking a leave of absence from his post as chief executive of CM&F Group in Manhattan, which specializes in malpractice insurance for health care professionals.

Sullivan wouldn't say what caused the board to oust McManus, except to say that "we differed on means, not ends" and that, as an outsider, McManus didn't understand all of Long Island's "microclimates."

"When you parachute someone into a closely bound place, it's a difficult transition," he said.

Sullivan, who grew up in Babylon, said he is determined to keep the spiritual mission of the health system alive and to ensure that Catholic values -- especially those having to do with the beginning and end of life -- are upheld.

He is concerned about the "unintended consequences" of the government's attempt to control health care costs by giving health systems incentives to keep patients out of the hospital, where care is more expensive. He worries that could mean patients, especially older people, will be denied treatment.

He also opposes a federal rule mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives. CHS has joined one of about 40 lawsuits nationwide challenging the rule, which stemmed from the Affordable Care Act's guarantee of preventive health services.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified contraceptives as preventive health care, which means birth-control pills and the morning-after pill must be included in most employer health plans without co-pays or deductibles. Following an outcry and the lawsuits from Catholic institutions, the government said it will come up with a compromise rule.

CHS won a victory last month in federal court in Brooklyn when U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan denied the government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, writing, "There is no, 'Trust us, changes are coming' clause in the Constitution."

For Sullivan, this is good news. "We're much encouraged by the recent findings . . . which give hope to us that our fundamental right to religious freedom will be in the end upheld," he said.

Catholic Health Services


Includes six hospitals, three nursing homes, a home health agency, hospice and community-based agency

Has about 24 percent of health care market on Long Island, with $2.2 billion in annual revenue

Employs 17,500, with medical staff of 4,600

Delivers 7,121 babies each year

Has 252,518 visits to the emergency room annually

Source: Catholic Health Services of Long Island

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