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Conscience Magazine

Catholic Hospital Merger Trend Reaches Three More Communities

September 16, 2013

Several managers initiated by Catholic healthcare entities in recent months provided examples of different outcomes in their respective communities. When Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, based in California, merged with St. Joseph Health this year, Hoag’s former president and the new leader of the combined Covenant Health Network, Dr. Richard Afable, was open about the changes in store for patients, disclosing to the Associated Press that the hospital decided to stop offering elective abortions, prompting a protest by the community.

By contrast, when Catholic Health Initiatives merged with St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston, Michael Romano, national director of media relations for Catholic Health Initiatives, minimized the implications for patient care, telling the Houston Chronicle, “Episcopal policies are very similar to Catholic directives” and that St. Luke’s would work to ensure its patients found care elsewhere for services no longer offered. A search of the website performed in mid 2013 found that an earlier “Gynecology” page—which listed sterilization as one of its offerings—had been replaced by a more general “Women’s Health Services” page that does not mention the procedure.

Community outcry succeeded in halting a proposed merger between the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock, AR, and St. Vincent Health System (SVHS), a Catholic entity and one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the country. At first, UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn stated that a merger would bring “no changes in the scope of clinical practice” with respect to the full complement of reproductive health services offered by the hospital, according to the Arkansas Times. Concerned citizens were unconvinced, however, because drafts of the agreement between the two hospitals expressed the intent to “fully integrate SVHS’s and UAMS’s facilities and services into a single network entity,” as reported in the Arkansas Blog. Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Diocese of Arkansas later affirmed that he would not support “any jointly governed institution that would result in our material cooperation with any of the immoral medical practices” offered by UAMS, including abortion, in vitro fertilization and sterilization. Public concern over the merger reached state legislators, according to the Arkansas Times, and ultimately the talks between the two hospitals were abandoned in July.