Hospital Merger in Washington State Stokes Fears About Catholic Limits on Care

The proposed merger of a well-regarded secular hospital system and a bigger Roman Catholic system in Washington state has triggered new alarms about spiritual restrictions on sufferers’ entry to care.

Virginia Mason Health System and CHI Franciscan announced plans in mid-July to kind a joint working firm together with 12 hospitals and greater than 250 different remedy websites within the Puget Sound area and the Yakima space in central Washington. They touted the deal as a means to enhance care.

But the plan was unclear on whether or not the secular hospitals may proceed to supply companies forbidden by church doctrine, together with abortion, contraception, gender affirmation surgical procedure and doctor help in dying, which is authorized in Washington.

These questions hold arising throughout the nation as a result of Catholic conglomerates are a number of the largest hospital methods within the U.S. — with 4 Catholic methods ranked within the high seven — they usually incessantly gobble up smaller, non-Catholic medical facilities.

The problem is especially pressing in Washington, the place Swedish Medical Center — the most important nonprofit well being care system within the Puget Sound space — merged with Providence Health & Services in 2012 and stopped offering emergency companies to finish pregnancies on the hospital. Bellingham and different Washington cities noticed comparable service cessations following Catholic takeovers of secular hospitals.

Already, 1 in 6 U.S. hospital beds are in Catholic services. The determine is 41% in Washington, based on a brand new report on religious-based hospital methods to be launched in September by MergerWatch. If the Virginia Mason merger goes by means of, 4 cities within the state — Bellingham, Centralia, Walla Walla and Yakima — may have solely a Catholic hospital.

Seattle-based Virginia Mason stated that, as a part of the deal, it could work with CHI Franciscan to adjust to the directives governing Catholic well being care establishments.

But it declined to supply specifics on what companies the system would cease providing or make an government out there for an interview. Tacoma-based CHI Franciscan is a part of the 137-hospital Catholic large CommonSpirit Health, the second-largest hospital system within the U.S.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives forbid companies reminiscent of abortion, contraception, tubal ligation and doctor help in dying for terminally in poor health sufferers. Catholic providers differ over whether or not gender transition care is permitted, however Virginia Mason stated its service choices for LGBTQ sufferers wouldn’t change.

In a July 21 letter, 12 organizations — together with the ACLU of Washington, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, End of Life Washington and the state chapter of the American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — warned the proposed merger would jeopardize entry to wanted companies. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have arrange conferences for early this month with Virginia Mason’s CEO, Dr. Gary Kaplan, to debate methods to take care of these companies.

“We’re actively working with community groups to address their questions,” Virginia Mason and CHI Franciscan stated in a joint written assertion.

It’s the latest conflict to arise as extra Catholic and non-Catholic hospital methods across the nation think about merging, pushed by the long-running consolidation within the well being care trade and now by the financial collapse attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those efforts have been derailed by objections from regulators and advocacy teams to Catholic care restrictions.

The Washington lawyer normal’s workplace stated it’s going to evaluation the proposed merger to make sure it doesn’t reduce competitors or hurt state residents. But advocacy teams don’t anticipate the state to dam the deal.

Research reveals that the majority Catholic services do not explicitly inform sufferers about their spiritual care restrictions and that physicians, particularly OB-GYNs, often struggle to rearrange workarounds to get sufferers care they want, reminiscent of contraception units. Doctors say they’re discouraged from even informing sufferers about medical choices forbidden by Catholic guidelines.

Washington advocacy teams are notably apprehensive the merger will scale back entry to companies in Yakima, a geographically remoted metropolis of 94,000 east of the Cascade Mountains, the place Virginia Mason Memorial is the one hospital.

“The people of Washington have voted many times for access to abortion and Death with Dignity, and it’s really frustrating that hospitals won’t be delivering those services,” stated state Rep. Eileen Cody (D-Seattle), who chairs the House well being committee.

Women’s well being teams are notably apprehensive that Virginia Mason’s services in Seattle and Yakima will cease offering companies to terminate a being pregnant or take away fetal tissue in emergencies reminiscent of ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages or permit tubal ligations. Many Catholic-controlled hospitals don’t supply these procedures.

“In secular hospitals, when a woman is miscarrying, she’ll be given the option to wait and see if the bleeding passes, or to immediately terminate the nonviable pregnancy,” stated Linda McCarthy, CEO of Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood in Bellingham. “In Catholic hospitals they don’t get that option.”

Planned Parenthood could ask Virginia Mason to arrange a model similar to one it established with Swedish Health Services in Seattle after that system affiliated with Providence, stated Christine Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. Swedish funded a brand new Planned Parenthood clinic close to its campus for procedures that violate Catholic doctrine.

Similarly, End of Life Washington needs Virginia Mason to conform to let its physicians individually select whether or not to offer sufferers with help in dying, as Swedish did after its merger, stated Dr. Robert Wood, the group’s medical adviser.

“But we’ve heard CHI Franciscan is a more conservative group than Providence, and we’re not optimistic that VM can negotiate that deal,” Wood stated.

Virginia Mason has stated its physicians would inform sufferers about all their remedy choices and would offer details about different suppliers if sufferers search companies it doesn’t supply.

Another barrier is that the Catholic bishops revised their religious care rules in 2018 to toughen church scrutiny of workaround offers during which non-Catholic merger companions search to protect entry to Catholic-prohibited companies.

Most Popular

To Top