Skip to comments.Catholic Hospitals Grow, and With Them Questions of Care (no abortions, no suicides, boo-hoo)
Posted on 10/18/2013 7:50:56 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o
Over the past few years, Washington states liberal voters have been on quite a roll. Same-sex marriage? Approved. Assisted suicide? Check. Legalized pot? That too. Strong abortion protections? Those have been in place for decades.
Now, though, the state finds itself in the middle of a trend that hardly anyone there ever saw coming: a wave of mergers and alliances between Catholic hospital chains and secular, taxpayer-supported community hospitals. By the end of this year, the ACLU estimates, nearly half of Washingtons hospital beds could be under Catholic influence or outright control.
Many of the deals have been reached in near secrecy, with minimal scrutiny by regulators. Virtually all involve providers in Western Washington, which voted heavily for same-sex marriage last November and the Death with Dignity Act in 2008. The cultural divide between the regions residents (Seattle recently edged out San Francisco as the area with the largest proportion of gay couples) and the Catholic Church (whose local archbishop led the effort against marriage equality and is overseeing a Vatican crackdown on independent-minded American nuns) couldnt be wider. And yet more and more hospitals there sustained by taxpayers, funded by Medicare, Medicaid, and other government subsidies could be bound by church restrictions on birth control, sterilization and abortion, fertility treatments, genetic testing, and assisted suicide.
In affected communities, the news is not going over well.
Its the perfect storm here, said Kathy Reim, president of Skagit PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) north of Seattle, where four area hospitals have been in merger talks this year. We are the only state that has all these rights and privileges available to our citizens. Yet many of our hospital beds are being managed by a system that, for the most part, cannot and will not honor these rights and laws.
Meanwhile, the deals just keep coming. Earlier this month, hospital commissioners approved a letter of intent between Skagit Valley Hospital and PeaceHealth, a Catholic enterprise that runs nine medical centers and dozens of clinics in three states. The week before, Franciscan Health System (which already has six hospitals in the region) said it would affiliate with an acute-care facility in the sprawling suburbs south of Seattle. In mid- September, UW Medicine, which includes the University of Washingtons teaching centers, signed a strategic collaboration with PeaceHealth to provide advanced specialized in-patient care.
In all, Washington has seen at least 10 completed or proposed Catholic-secular affiliations in the past three years, more than anywhere else in the country, says Sheila Reynertson of MergerWatch, a New York-based nonprofit group that tracks hospital consolidations. Three of the states five largest health-care systems are Catholic.
Catholic providers have actually been an integral part of Washington states health-care infrastructure since the late 1800s, when nuns from the East Coast and Europe braved rain and worse to minister to loggers and miners in remote outposts around the region. A century later, those historical ties and their relative robustness have made them attractive partners for community hospitals for whom the choice is: affiliate or get crushed.
Its harder than ever before for independent health-care organizations to thrive without alliances, said PeaceHealth spokesman Tim Strickland. One of the main reasons: health-care reform. Its happening all over the country, with all kinds of providers, he said. We dont perceive this trend as a Catholic scenario so much as a health-care scenario. (Indeed, the consulting firm Booz & Company predicts that a fifth of the nations 5,000 hospitals could merge over the next few years.)
In some places including big swaths of Western Washington Catholic providers are becoming the only source of health care for an entire region. (Approximately 8 percent of what the federal government calls sole community hospitals are Catholic.)
The dilemma is that Catholic hospitals there are 630 or so in the United States, representing 15 percent of all admissions every year are not independent entities. They are bound by a 43-page document called the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which have been around in some form since 1921 and were last revised by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2009.
The 72 directives explicitly ban abortion and sterilization. They restrict other types of care as well, including emergency contraception for rape victims (It is not permissible... to initiate or to recommend treatments [for sexual assault] that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum), in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination (contrary to the covenant of marriage, the unity of the spouses, and the dignity proper to parents and the child), surrogate pregnancy, and anything that remotely resembles assisted suicide (the bishops preferred term is euthanasia).
Then theres this:
5. Catholic health care services must adopt these Directives as policy, require adherence to them within the institution as a condition for medical privileges and employment, and provide appropriate instruction regarding the Directives for administration, medical and nursing staff, and other personnel.
Over the years, the ERDs have had their greatest impact on women and people too sick or poor to look around for another provider. Some states (including Washington) have laws requiring emergency birth control, but there have been numerous reports of Catholic-affiliated doctors and nurses who were prevented from treating female patients including pregnant women with serious complications in accordance with best medical practices and the patients own wishes. In a study last year by researchers at the University of Chicago, 52 percent of OB/GYNs affiliated with Catholic providers reported having conflicts over religious policies dictating medical care.
But the ERDs are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Depending on the local bishop, Catholic providers have a certain amount of leeway in how they interpret them. In Washington state, religious hospitals have been more willing than in some other places to negotiate and accommodate their partners concerns an attitude Reynertson and others call Catholic lite.
PeaceHealth, for example, strongly respects the patient-physician relationship and decisions that are made jointly by physicians and patients in the best interests of those patients, Strickland said. This means that it will allow its affiliates to dispense birth control and do emergency abortions to save the life of the mother, he said. Franciscan is seen as being stricter, but even so, its secular partner in the small city of Bremerton is continuing to perform tubal ligations on women immediately after they give birth the medical standard in most hospitals for women seeking such procedures, but verboten in most Catholic ones.
But usually, its the non-religious partner that has to give. The most high-profile example involves Swedish Health Services, a secular hospital system that partnered last year with Providence Health & Services. Like most of the recent Washington deals, this one was a kind of workaround, crafted to protect Swedishs autonomy, reassure its patients, and mollify its critics. To ensure Providence remained Catholic and Swedish remained secular, the partnership was intentionally structured as an affiliation, not a merger or acquisition, Swedish said in a statement to ProPublica, adding: As a secular organization, Swedish is not subject to the ERDs. Among other things, this allows it to continue providing the full range of birth control services, including tubal ligations and vasectomies.
But a few days after the partnership was announced, Swedish said it would stop doing elective abortions, which it had been offering as part of its reproductive health services for years. Instead, it gave $2 million to Planned Parenthood to open a clinic adjacent to Swedishs main Seattle hospital.
By structuring deals as affiliations, partnerships or collaborations, hospitals gain another advantage: sidestepping regulators. Washingtons process for scrutinizing hospital mergers only kicks in if theres a sale, purchase or lease of an existing hospital, but most of the recent agreements have stopped short of that line. Thus, the Swedish-Providence deal did not go through a full review, even though the combined health care system is by far the largest in the state. Nor did Franciscans affiliation with Harrison Medical Center, the only full-service hospital serving much of the hard-to-reach Kitsap Peninsula and nearby islands, which ACLU-Washington criticized as a thinly veiled ... transfer of assets tantamount to a sale. Terms like affiliation and alliance leave a lot of room to maneuver, said the ACLUs state legislative director, Shankar Narayan. Without government oversight, once the camels nose is in the pen, you dont have much control of where the affiliation is going to go.
The legitimate concern is: What happens to this relationship later? Reynertson said. Is this affiliation, this engagement, going to last? When are they going to get married? Once things like IT infrastructure ... are intertwined, a full merger may become inevitable. Its a connection that can never be undone. And of course, at that point the mergers will be approved, because look how well theyre working already.
Robb Miller, executive director of Compassion & Choices, which helped pass Washingtons assisted-suicide law, doesnt actually think things are working all that well right now. The Death With Dignity Act isnt mandatory for providers, and even before the wave of mergers, many secular hospitals had opted not to dispense or administer lethal medications to terminally ill patients. The Catholic partnerships have drastically shrunk the pool of providers willing or able to help dying patients end their lives. Since PeaceHealth took over the public hospital serving Clark County (in the southwestern part of the state) in 2010, Miller says, doctors, nurses and social workers have stopped referring patients for counseling to groups like his. They went from a secular organization with reasonably good policies on death with dignity to an organization with anti-choice policies based on the ERDs. The practical result is that many terminally ill patients simply lose their medical options for a peaceful death, Miller said.
Strickland acknowledges that PeaceHealth forbids both physician-assisted suicide and elective abortions at its affiliates. But he insists that this not as big a change as it sounds, since many community hospitals dont offer those health care options anyway. We only go into communities where were invited, he said, and we have a very strong track record of adding services, not taking them away.
But what about the future, asks PFLAGs Reim. She notes that PeaceHealth and other Catholic-affiliated providers are unlikely to add health care services restricted by the ERDs.
Were expecting another 40,000 people to move to this part of the state, she pointed out. Some of these newcomers are likely to be gay couples and transgender people who could find themselves unable get fertility treatments or hormonal therapy in their communities. This isnt just about protecting the rights of the people who already here, but the rights of the people who are coming, she said.
For Mary Kay Barbieri, co-chair of a Skagit Valley group called People for Healthcare Freedom, the other big fear is that the Catholic Church and the men who run it could suddenly decide to take a harder line in how they interpret the ERDs. Or a Catholic lite provider could be gobbled up by one with stricter views, as almost happened this year when PeaceHealth and Franciscan's parent company, Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives, were in talks to merge (later scuttled). That was very worrisome, Barbieri said.
Meanwhile, the states largely hands-off attitude may be ending. This summer, Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, directed the Department of Health to update its hospital merger oversight process, while Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued an opinion requiring all public hospital districts that offer maternity services to also provide birth control and abortions. But how those orders will play out remains a very big question. We will be watching closely, Barbieri said.
"Women and gays in Washington state are bracing for limits on care, and calling for public debate."
"Most insurers in Washington state must cover abortion. Now, after a wave of mergers and alliances between Catholic hospital chains and secular community hospitals, some Washington state residents are worried services like abortions will no longer be as widely available.")
See what's happening? The mere existence of Catholic hospitals is now seen as the major threat to the expansion of Abortion, Sterilization, Contraception, Sodomy, Castration and De-sexing ("Transgender Services").
As conservatives, we had better pray that the Catholic Hospitals stay in business--- and stay Catholic. They're the only real institutional barrier to the total victory of Death and Sterility, Inc.
Washington state ping.
Most Catholic colleges and universities are no longer Catholic in any real sense, and I expect the hospitals to follow suit.
Well, Nina, if things get really desperate, you can always abort yourself!
I they don’t like the restriction in Catholic hospitals let them start their own.
I don’t need anyone to tell me where to go. Where I live, I can go to Holy Redeemer or Saint Mary’s medical center. It is widely known that they are the best hospitals in the area and the government-run ‘hospitals’ are basically death traps. You are taking your chances if you go to Doylestown or Grand View hospitals. My wife’s OB/GYM was associated with Grand View and when I realized that was where my child was going to be born, we agreed to switch to the practice associated with Holy Redeemer. yea, it was a lot further, but the peace of mind was worth it.
So killing off people because it is inconvenient to care for them is now a "right and privilege"?
Strickland acknowledges that PeaceHealth forbids both physician-assisted suicide and elective abortions at its affiliates. But he insists that this not as big a change as it sounds, since many community hospitals dont offer those health care options anyway.
I have no idea why this guy lumped suicide and abortion with health-care, since neither of them are even remotely related to the practice of medicine.
I wonder if it ever occurred to any of these agenda-motivated whiners that maybe the growth of Catholic hospitals is a result of health-care professionals wanting to work in an environment where murder and assisted "suicide" are not among the services that hospitals offer. I would never commit an abortion; I wouldn't want to work at (or even give my business to) a hospital where such activities take place. I'm a health-care professional--that means I care about human life and health.
Yes, the Catholic hospitals and health care are seen as the major threat. Very disturbing - there is a pervasive anti-Catholic sentiment growing. No masses during the ‘shutdown’ - not even if priests volunteered.
Catholic Church has a big target on it.
I live in a town on the East side of WA and our Catholic hospital here, Lourdes, shut down their birthing center this past July. They said it was due to cost. It is the only hospital in the town I live so now everyone has to go to one of the two other towns close by to have their babies. These are secular hospitals.
I’m not that in touch with things at the local hospitals, so I don’t know if things are similar, but I have not heard any stories (so far) about Holy Redeemer or Saint Mary’s closing any areas of their hospitals. The most popular secular hospital is probably Abington hospital and my grandmother (92) was there recently and, frankly, her care was pretty good, which surprised me. But as long as I have my choice... and who knows how long that choice will still be mine to make... I know where I will be choosing to go.
It's a consipiracy!!!!!!!!
Thanks. This article was a real hit piece. It ain’t journalism. Goebbels would be proud. And it is perfectly aligned with the attitudes of the current administration.
On the other hand just because a hospital system calls itself “catholic” doesn’t mean it is.