To Reinvigorate Adventism, It’s Time To Sell The Hospitals

The case for trading missionally-bankrupt Adventist hospitals for free health clinics and tuition-free education.

To provide true Christian healthcare, Adventist hospitals need to go.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we own and operate a number of non-profit hospitals. We’ll, we don’t, as members, but the church as an institution does.

These hospitals bring in A LOT of money. Oversight of the Adventist hospitals has been divvied up between umbrella organizations like Adventist Health and Adventist Health System.

Get this: in 2013 AHS revenue topped $7,500,000,000 dollars! No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you; that’s over $7.5 billion!!! Here’s the annual report you can glance at.

What about Adventist Health? According to their 2013 annual report, received net revenue was $3,052,099,000. WOW. $3 billion—a year! That’s a lot of money. Check out their annual report to get the full picture.

So combined revenues from AH and AHS exceed $10 billion dollars—annually.

As crazy as that is, THIS might be crazier:

Adventist Health System, which operates hospitals in 10 states, paid its top 13 employees a total of $18.4 million in 2011, including benefits.

But here’s the thing: if we, the Adventists, sold our hospitals (the assets of which are worth even more than the revenue)… nothing would change but the names. Adventist GlenOaks Hospital would become Jewish GlenOaks Hospital or just GlenOaks Hospital (of the 74 Adventist hospitals in North America listed on Wikipedia, only 14 actually include the word Adventist in their names… so much for the benefits of advertising).

Meanwhile, the rest of the church employees (the non-hospital employees) get paid a “living wage.”

If sold, hospital staff would continue operating and having jobs as they do now, providing the same level of care to current and future patients (or consumer as AHS likes to call them) that they do right now.

There simply is no theological component to running a hospital in 2015 and beyond. I’d like to see the Adventist careerists and institutionalists put forth an impassioned argument for keeping Adventist hospitals. If it ever debuts it is going to look awfully selfish.

Florida Hospital (an Adventist hospital, though you wouldn’t know by the name) says it has a faith based mission because it has 45 chaplains available around the clock. That’s a laughably weak argument for running an Adventist hospital. The church could send chaplains to any hospital—Adventist or not. It doesn’t need to own a hospital to do so. In fact, nothing about Florida Hospital’s infographic impressed me as an Adventist—as a follower of Jesus—that this is a worthy church “mission.”

What are Adventist hospitals doing that other hospital systems can’t or aren’t? Adventists have been brainwashed into believing that our hospitals are extending the healing hand of Jesus to the world.

But Jesus healed for free. He didn’t have to deal with insurance or billing (and neither did his patients). He didn’t have 13 top employees He needed to pay nearly $20 million dollars a year (He did, however, have 12 disciples who volunteered their time and talents).

Which leads me to my first point of this article: if we sold our hospitals we could use the money to open free clinics! Now THAT is healthcare. Now THAT is advertising. THAT is as close to extending the healing ministry of Jesus as we can come as an organization.

Oh, that’s not sustainable? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Let’s put our heads together and, for once, not be scared to either do the right thing or solve a hard problem. There ARE ways to free up money and divert it into more worthy causes. Frankly, I’ve got plenty of ideas, but I hesitate to share most of them with you now for fear that the current Adventist leadership would try to implement them (and therefore botch them). Sorry, that’s just how I feel.

Point number two: the money from selling the hospitals could be used to make the Adventist education system awesome again. Our colleges should be free, or certainly much cheaper. Talk about giving them a leg up in the world! If preventable, it’s despicable to graduate students who aren’t debt free and you’ve just seen one possible way in which it could be prevented.

Does the “church” side of the church see any money from the “rich” side of the organization? The hospital system does fork over some money every now and then—$50k here or there in my experience—when a Conference President’s begs them to. I won’t put words in their mouth though. Here’s a direct quote from the financial summary section of Adventist Health’s annual report:

As a not-for-profit organization, all net revenue over expenses is channeled back into our hospitals and health system. Unlike for-profit health care organizations, (where money becomes dividend checks to investors) this money funds capital improvement, enhanced patient care, new hospital programs and community outreach.

Tell me again how this is theologically relevant to a Christian denomination?

Back in the day when Adventists ran sanitariums they were something different and special. I can’t say the same about today’s Adventist hospitals. There isn’t enough differentiation from the hospitals of the world to designate them as church owned and operated.

Think of it like this. When you went to a Jewish Hospital were you converted to Judaism? Did you become Catholic when you visited a family member being treated at a Catholic hospital? What about a Lutheran hospital? Did you even care one way or another?

And wait just a minute… why are Adventist Health and Adventist Health System separate in the first place? Why isn’t there just one entity that oversees all Adventist Hospitals? Well, Adventist leaders and lawyers got together and said something like, “If we break this up into multiple systems, people who sue for malpractice won’t be able to take down the whole thing. We can compartmentalize the damage.” Hmm. Is that an issue the church should be dealing with?

I mean… should Conference, Union and Division Presidents be dealing with this stuff? Because we, the church members, pay them to. These Presidents—who are themselves Pastors—and various other Adventist “church” staffers (like Treasurers) are on various hospital boards. For this privilege they are awarded perks like free iPads and trips to Hawaii (of course you never hear about that stuff from the pulpit when the preach). What business/training do they have in the first place to be overseeing hospitals? But why? If it’s for anything other than rubber stamping, please let me know.

As a member of the Adventist church, I would like to see us sell the hospital system and put the money into real ministry where the rubber really meets the road.

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