Last month, Hospital Sisters Health System announced the impending closure of two Catholic hospitals – St. Joseph in Chippewa Falls and Sacred Heart in Eau Claire – along with 19 clinics serving western Wisconsin’s rural towns. The press release did not provide many details, beyond communicating their intent to move out of the region, but I’m guessing the major cyberattack they suffered in August and September is at least partially to blame. There were almost no patients in the Sacred Heart ward where my grandfather died Sept. 7, and the nurses told me they were turning patients away because they couldn’t access medical records.

The healthcare system is Franciscan in its mission, a vestige of the days when its founding community, the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, served in hospitals in Wisconsin and Illinois. Like our own Servites, who once educated and cared for the people of Ladysmith, or the Holy Cross Sisters who served in healthcare and education in Merrill, the Hospital Sisters have had to move with the times, and this latest divestiture is likely as deeply painful for them as it is for the more than 1,000 workers who will lose their jobs and the thousands of patients who depend upon them.

Why should Catholics in communities not served by this organization feel concerned? Well, for one thing, Sacred Heart had the only inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit in the region. For years – back when I was working at the Chetek newspaper – I did the courthouse news, and I remember reading the Barron County dispatch log and seeing calls, over and over, seeking beds for suicidal or mentally ill teens. It was hard enough then to find; now, when mental health seems to be in decline among all age groups, helping sick teens find care in a safe environment will be far more challenging.

The hospitals offered many standard services – dialysis, emergency rooms, urgent care, cancer and critical care, a birthing center and more – but more importantly than which services they offered was how they offered them – to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Back when I was teaching night classes for Concordia University, one of my adult students worked in management there. I can’t recall how he described Sacred Heart exactly, but the gist of it was (with a shake of his head and maybe a touch of pride): They are backward. They won’t survive. Every other hospital system is focused on money, and they are focused on patient care.

Sure, from an administrative perspective, the first rule of business is to stay in business, and the financial side cannot be neglected – but when you can’t find help for a child who needs serious psychiatric care, is it any consolation that not providing that service is far more cost-effective for the local healthcare system? Probably not.

It seems yet another indicator that faith-centered organizations cannot compete and thrive in public, secular life. Pew Center studies consistently show many Americans view the loss of Christian values as negatively impacting society, and here we have a very concrete example of what that looks like.

While many thousands of people across the region – my parents and grandmother among them – worry about what this means for their future healthcare needs, I want to move toward Bishop James P. Powers’ “Pastoral Letter on Evangelization” – in it, he calls for Catholics to build their relationship with God and then with one another, which will lead to a wider revival of faith.

Piggybacking on that, I’d like to add that supporting Catholic and Christian organizations however we can – financially, with prayers, as volunteers, as patients and clients and customers – becomes all the more important as the gulf between Christian beliefs and secular society widens. Working together, like-minded individuals can influence culture, society and even the economy.

On that note – and in recognition that February is Catholic Press Month – I’d also humbly ask for your support for Catholic media as well – for this publication, but also for radio stations, national and international newspapers, magazines, websites, podcasts, media organizations like Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire and more. In our daily immersion in secular life, many of us have little opportunity for spiritual enrichment. Catholic media is where we find it.