A piece that ran in the New York Times earlier this year addressed head-on the threats to women's reproductive health that secular mergers with Catholic hospitals bring.
In Louisville, the debate focused on contraceptive services, like elective sterilizations, that had been provided by the University of Louisville Hospital, one member of a planned three-party merger that would have created a large statewide system. There was considerable uncertainty over whether University Hospital would be required to follow Catholic policies, according to a report by the Kentucky attorney general. Officials initially said the hospital would follow Catholic directives but then focused on certain procedures.
“While this evolving explanation may represent an accurate description of the proposed legal structure of the consolidation, it has cast a cloud of vagueness and skepticism over the issue in the public eye,” the report concluded.
Asking women to go across town to another hospital for services is not a solution, said Dr. Peter Hasselbacher, a retired university official who follows health policy in Kentucky. And while women in Louisville generally have a choice of hospitals, women in rural communities may not, he said, adding that many of Catholic Health Initiative’s Kentucky hospitals are the only hospital available.
Catholic Health says there was never a possibility that University Hospital would be allowed to perform services like elective sterilizations. [Times' emphasis]“Our position around the ethical and religious directives never changed. How we communicated that evolved and changed over time,” said Paul Edgett, a senior vice president at the system.
Here's an analysis of the Kentucky attorney general's opinion on the merger, blocked by the governor of that state.
So how is it possible for St. Vincent Health and UAMS to run a hospital together — the "clinically integrated network" referred to in the Letter of Intent that UAMS and St. Vincent Health signed — when one refuses to perform abortions, sterilizations and prescribe contraceptives and the other is legally obligated to?
And since merging infrastructure is part of the Deloitte consulting contract between the two hospitals, then perhaps someone on the Board of Trustees for the University System meeting tomorrow at UALR should ask UAMS Chancellor Rahn if the new $87 million clinical records computer system trustees approved last May will be used by St. Vincent as well — at state expense? Or if not, is the hospital installing a system that won't merge with St. Vincent's records system?
We're trying to find out when Attorney General Dustin McDaniel will issue a legal analysis on the deal. I've also solicited a comment from local competitor Baptist Health on the local government's idea to partner with a private hospital. UPDATE: Though UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn has "advised" the a.g.'s office of its idea, it has not requested a formal opinion. You think anybody might be willing to do that? Or will the only legal analysis be from the UA System homers?
UPDATE II: A Baptist spokesman said the hospital generally doesn't comment on the business arrangements of others. He observed that the specifics of the UAMS-St. Vincent combine remain unclear, the same observation made yesterday by a member of the UA Board of Trustees.