About Hospital Mergers
A surge of new hospital mergers and acquisitions is taking place across the country, as hospital officials react to the recession, tight credit and fears about what health reform will mean for the hospital industry. When one of the hospitals or health systems is religiously-sponsored, conflicts can arise over what ethical policies will prevail in the merged entity.
An obstetrician describes his experience of working in a rural hospital that had temporarily come under the control of a Catholic health system.
The most serious conflicts can occur when one of the merging hospitals or health systems is Catholic-sponsored. Catholic hospitals follow a set of ethical guidelines that prohibit the provision of abortions, contraception, tubal ligations, vasectomies and infertility services. Depending on how they are interpreted by the local Bishop, the guidelines also can restrict the provision of emergency contraception for rape victims and treatment for reproductive health emergencies, such as ectopic pregnancy and miscarriages. Some end-of-life choices may also be restricted. Some other religiously-sponsored hospitals, such as Baptist, restrict provision of abortions, while other denominations (such as Jewish) have no restrictions on the care provided at affiliated hospitals.
How can these religious/secular hospital mergers affect patients?
When secular (non-religious) community hospitals merge with religiously-sponsored hospitals and agree to adopt religious restrictions, patients can suddenly discover they have lost access to vital reproductive health care services and may encounter interference with the ability to make decisions about end-of-life care.
Low-income women are disproportionately affected by these religious health care restrictions because they tend to be more dependent on hospitals and hospital outpatient clinics for their health care. Rural women are also especially affected, as they may not have an easily accessible alternative provider of health care. Older people are particularly worried that their end-of-life wishes may not be honored.
What can people do to protect their rights and access to care?
MergerWatch works with communities across the country when religious/secular hospital mergers are proposed that would reduce patients’ access to comprehensive health care. In some cases, we have successfully stopped a hospital merger and in other cases, we have successfully introduced creative solutions to preserve community access to vital services. Read more about some of our success stories here.