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National CEO: Calvary takeover a ‘religious vs secular argument’ on healthcare

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Calvary National CEO Martin Bowles. Photo: Calvary Public Hospital Bruce/Facebook

Calvary National CEO Martin Bowles said that the ACT Government’s unilateral decision to take over the running of the Calvary Public Hospital comes amid a “difficult conversation” around religious versus secular delivery of health and aged care services.

Announced on 10 May by Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith, the compulsory acquisition of Canberra’s only Catholic hospital, operated by the Little Company of Mary, comes less than a month after a government inquiry into abortion and reproductive choice described Calvary as “problematic … due to an overriding religious ethos.”

Mr Bowles told The Catholic Weekly he had been given two days’ notice of the decision and challenged the ministers’ claim that it came after negotiations with Calvary had failed.

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“I can’t really cast my mind to what is in the mind of the government,” he said.

“But that said, there is a real religious versus secular argument that has been propagated by a few people out there.

“We saw it in the inquiry into abortion-related services in the ACT, where it quickly became a debate about ‘religious organisations shouldn’t do health care,’ or that it should be a secular thing and so on and so forth.

“So I think it does play a role at some level, whether it’s a direct relationship between that and the decision, that’s only something the government will answer.

“But clearly, I think as a society, we’re now seeing a much bigger and more difficult conversation around religious versus secular delivery of health and aged care services.”

Mr Bowles said Calvary runs four publicly-funded hospitals across the country, including two in New South Wales and one in Victoria.

“We don’t have these conversations in those states at the moment,” he said.

“Are there issues from time to time that pop up? Yes there are, but we are very, very good at understanding the needs of people when they are at their time of most need.

“We will deal with the person in front of us irrespective of what that issue happens to be. We’ve demonstrated that for 44 years.

“So it’s a little galling for people to say, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t be there.’

“We should be here. We have a culture of it, we have a track record in it. We have a set of values that actually puts the patient at the centre of our care.”

National director of mission Mark Green said that in a pluralist society there should be a place for faith-based organisations to work in partnership with the government to provide services in which they have experience and expertise.

“We’re very good at providing the health services we’ve got expertise in, which complement other services we can’t provide but government or other partners can provide.

“I think that up until today this has been something that has enriched us.”

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