Northeast Health has agreed to abide by Catholic health restrictions upon completion of its affiliation with two Catholic systems, St. Peter’s Hospital (part of Catholic Health East) and Seton Health (part of the Catholic Ascension Health system). That change in hospital policy means an end to abortions, tubal ligations, contraceptive counseling and other services at Northeast Health’s Samaritan Hospital in Troy and Memorial Hospital in Albany. The impact would be particularly severe in Troy, where the only other hospital is St. Mary’s, part of the Seton Health with which Northeast Health is affiliating.
The solution is the Burdett Care Center, a 20-bed maternity facility on the second floor of Samaritan Hospital. It is separately incorporated to insulate the center from the Catholic restrictions that now prevails in the rest of the hospital. As part of the state approval, the center had to be completed prior to the secular hospital’s merger with the two Catholic health systems. The Burdett Care Center consolidates all maternity services from both Troy hospitals and allows women delivering babies to have post-partum tubal ligations. The New York Department of Health approved the Certificate of Need for the Center and provided $6 million in funds from a state grant. It is the first such hospital-within-a hospital solution to a religious/secular merger in New York State, providing an important model for future religious/secular merger situations.
Why are we not talking about these merger accommodations in the context of the bishops’ battle over federal law on health insurance? They’re going on all over the country, and have been for years. Seems ridiculous to claim that President Obama is restricting religious liberty with a rule change at HHS regarding large employers, when the bishops are wheeling and dealing with state regulators all over the country if (and only if) those negotiations are necessary to their continued survival in the health care industry. They can create a “hospital within a hospital” but they can’t structure an employee health insurance benefit that complies with federal law? Come on. How can that be true? They wanted to talk about this. Why do they also get to dictate the limits of the discussion? They follow religious edicts when they act as employers or (maybe more importantly) health care providers. That affects our access to family planning. Discuss.
This is a link to a medical journal library, where you’ll find many articles like this one:
In the US, when one of the two hospitals involved in a merger is a Catholic hospital, comprehensive reproductive health care tends to suffer. The Catholic Church forbids its hospitals from providing and making direct referrals for many reproductive health services (i.e., reversible contraception, infertility treatments, male and female sterilization, abortion, condoms for HIV prevention, and emergency contraception). These mergers are especially severe in small towns and rural areas. Several groups have formed to address this hidden crisis. In Troy, New York, a settlement was reached about 12 months after a law suit was filed against the conditions of a merger between a Catholic hospital and a nonsectarian hospital. After a long fight, the settlement essentially guaranteed that patients who are dependent on religious institutions obtain the contraceptive and sterilization services they need and want, but abortion services and referrals continued to be denied. The state of Montana considered the impact of a merger of a Catholic institution and a nonsectarian institution, yet continued availability of all reproductive health services was not guaranteed. The American Civil Liberties Union asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the merger’s impact on reproductive health care, since the merger created a monopoly on acute care in Great Falls. FTC took no action. Key factors to provision of reproductive health services other than abortion in cases of mergers between a Catholic hospital and a nonsectarian hospital include the type of association the two hospitals enter into, the local bishop’s willingness to accept a creative solution, and the willingness of the state to consider the implications of such a merger and take steps to guarantee the continued availability of services.
This is the reality of health care in the US. It’s big business. Contracts and mergers and lawsuits and huge government subsidies at every level and it’s been like this for decades. Obama’s approach to this tangled-up mess seemed to me to be “first do no harm”. Okay. I see the sense in that. But, can we please at the very least stop pretending it’s 1946 and we all have a neighborhood “doc” and a small local hospital and instead talk honestly about the sorry patched-together corporate-style health care system we actually have, and the huge religious role in this system? What accommodations are we, the public, willing to make? What is the benefit to the public and what are the costs? We’ve been talking about “liberty” since 2009, whether it’s the Tea Party or lawyers or bishops using that word. When do we talk about health care?