Capella’s Arkansas hospital buy delayed by Vatican

Rome tells Mercy Hospital Hot Springs officials to work out differences with local bishop

Garnering approval from The Vatican to sell one of its hospitals isn’t as perfunctory a process as one might think.

Franklin-based Capella Healthcare had announced earlier this year its intention to acquire Mercy Hospital Hot Springs, a facility run by the Catholic Church-owned Mercy Health Ministry and overseen by the hospital’s own board and the church’s Diocese of Little Rock and its leader, Bishop Anthony Lane. In September, Mercy and Capella had come to terms and announced the signing of a “definitive agreement” but in that communication made it clear the Vatican had to approve the deal.

The Vatican has decided to let others decide.

“The Vatican did not approve or deny Mercy’s request to transfer ownership of Mercy Hot Springs (formerly St. Joseph’s Mercy Health System) to Capella Healthcare,” Mike Wiechart, Capella’s COO, said in a statement responding to a Nashville Post inquiry. “The Vatican has asked that Mercy and Bishop Anthony Taylor engage in further discussions."

According to a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch story linked here, Mercy officials informed hospital employees via email that the Vatican had told Mercy leaders to sit down with Bishop Taylor and “resolve their differences.” The same article reports the Federal Trade Commission is looking into the deal’s antitrust implications, including its potential effect on hospital prices and services in the Hot Springs, Ark., area.

Bishop Taylor, who in late October made his case against the sale to Vatican officials in Rome, has accused Mercy of abandoning its ministry to the poor and of failing to advocate aggressively for Catholic principles.