Dr. Murphy: Healthcare Can’t Be Measured by Profits

Health care is not a commodity, it’s a human and social right that is being threatened by over-commercializing the system, said Dr. John Murphy, president and chief executive officer of the Western Connecticut Health Network at the CAPP Business Leaders Breakfast at Fairfield University.

I am concerned about whether the obsession with profitability will force health care institutions to forget about why they exist and what was behind their founding,” he said to a gathering of 200 business leaders in the Oak Room.

The annual communion breakfast is sponsored by Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice (CAPP) of Fairfield County and by Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life.

Dr. Murphy, who continues to maintain a one-day a month patient practice while running the $1.5 billion Western Connecticut healthcare system, said that it’s not possible to create a standard healthcare package that can be commoditized like other products.

He said that treating patients is a “human encounter,” not a product, and that “patients don’t make good consumers.”

“We treat one person at a time and everyone is different,” he said.

Dr. Murphy said that much of what happens to an individual’s health—from a car accident to sudden illness—is often unplanned, leaving people frightened, anxious and vulnerable when they least expect it.

“If you give someone a bad diagnosis, they are hardly listening,” he added, emphasizing that they have little time or ability to shop around.

Dr. Murphy said the need to be profitable and reward shareholders often conflicts with the basic healing mission of advocating for patients and building healthy communities.

“Healthcare is best delivered by a not-for-profit system,” he said. “We should not only be at the patient’s beside but on his side.”

Connecticut’s healthcare system has its origins in the mission of the Catholic Church and others faiths to treat people who are sick, to reach out to the poor and to safeguard human dignity, he said.

Murphy, a Fordham University graduate, said that Danbury Hospital founded in 1881, grew out of work of St. Peter’s Benevolent Aids Society to treat people with typhoid and tuberculosis, which were rampant at the time.

Describing himself as a strong believer in competition and the capitalist system, Dr. Murphy said it is important to check excesses, as more hospitals across the nation join for-profit systems. He added that four Connecticut hospitals are now for-profit entities.

Speaking of his own practice, he noted that what had been a $40 drug to treat children affected by the serious condition of childhood spasms is now $23,000 for the same vial after a big pharmaceutical company, which had nothing to do with its development, bought the rights.

“Communities have unprofitable needs,” he said, adding that there’s “a risk” to the system if everything is measured in investor profits.

The long-time member of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown said his thoughts on the role and mission of healthcare in society were formed by the writings of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago.

“The Catholic dimension of healthcare is that it is a continuation of Jesus’s healing ministry and has a sacramental quality,” he said. “It is a ministry of hope grounded in the belief that “God’s love for us is permanent and unchanging.”

Prior to Dr. Murphy’s talk, Robert Nalewajek, President of CAPP_USA presented this year’s CAPP Business Leadership Award to Gail Berardino for her philanthropic work for the American Association of the Knights of Malta.

Before joining the American Association of the Knights of Malta, Berardino had a successful career in management at the McCall Pattern.

Berardino, who is a member of the board Fairfield University’s Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies, said Malta is both a local and global organization to serve the sick and the poor.

She noted that every Malta member in the Diocese of Bridgeport is in one sense a Eucharistic Minister “because they bring the Blessed Sacrament to more than 20 different hospitals and healthcare facilities, while also serving people in prison and Catholic Charities soup kitchens.”

She said she was very proud of Malta’s support for Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, which delivers more than 3,700 newborns each year and serves as the preferred United Nations Hospital for its four refugee camps.

Those in attendance at the annual communion breakfast began the day in the Egan Chapel when Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, Fr. Jeffrey von Arx and members of the Jesuit Community concelebrated Mass.

“We live in a world where the status quo is not good enough. It is not of the mind of God,” said the Bishop who urged business leaders in attendance to ask themselves if there’s even one policy or practice they can create to  work for change in their own businesses to make the world a better place.

“Too many people have haven fallen through the cracks or been forced into the shadows,” he said, asking them to use Catholic Social Teaching as a guidepost.

“Giving witness in the market place is difficult. It is not often easy to be faithful to the Lord and fulfill your responsibilities,” he said. “It is a question we must all ponder in our vocations and ministries. What is your plan to make change and are you ready to make it?”