The ACLU is asking Governor Jay Inslee to call for a moratorium on hospital mergers and affiliations for six months. Many of these partnerships involve faith-based health care providers. The ACLU, along with ten other local organizations, sent a letter to the governor saying they’re worried that these mergers will hurt patients in the long run.
In it, they asked the governor to put pending hospital transactions on pause for the moment. They say this would give state officials time to gather information on how these mergers or partnerships are affecting access to care.
ACLU spokesperson Doug Honig says the concern is that secular hospitals could fall under control of religious organizations and be subject to church doctrine. If that happens, Honig says patient care would be compromised; it would be driven by religious beliefs, not by patient needs. “This can affect people’s ability to get end-of-life directives respected,” he says. “It can affect access to reproductive care, it can affect access to care for lesbian and gay people.”
The ACLU points out that in 2010, 26 percent of hospital beds in Washington State were in religious hospitals. Today, that figure is 40 percent, and could be even higher by year’s end.
Hospital affiliations are not new, but the pace of these mergers has picked up in the past few years because of economics. It’s a way for hospitals, especially those in rural communities, to stay in business.
Recently UW Medicine came under fire after announcing its alliance with PeaceHealth, a Catholic, non-profit healthcare provider based in Vancouver, Washington. The head of UW Medicine tried to assure critics that the agreement won’t stop it from providing controversial procedures, including elective abortion, birth control and end of life care.
But a spokesperson for Governor Inslee says he’s concerned about the issue and has asked his staff to look at all available options to protect patients’ access to medical services.