hospital mergers

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The Washington State Hospital Association has filed suit in Thurston County Superior Court over the state's new permitting process for hospitals.

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Pacific Medical Centers said Monday it plans to team with Providence Health and Services, the latest example of health care providers aligning with religious organizations.

Flickr Photo/Michael B.

Starting Thursday, hospitals that plan to merge or form partnerships will now undergo state review as part of a new rule that takes effect this week. And nobody’s happy with the new regulations, not even the critics who called for change.

Public hospital districts that provide maternity care must also ensure that abortion and contraception services are available to women. That’s the opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office yesterday. It comes on the heels of recent hospital partnerships that involve religious organizations. Critics have been trying to put the brakes on these contracts until there’s proper oversight.

The state of Washington is just beginning the process of writing new rules to govern hospital mergers. But already there’s controversy over what role the state should play when religious health care providers propose to take over hospitals.

The pace of hospital mergers has picked up in recent years amid a climate of healthcare consolidation. Many of them involved Catholic-based providers. The ACLU of Washington and other organizations are concerned this trend could limit access to end-of-life and reproductive services.

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Governor Jay Inslee has stepped into the debate over hospital mergers and partnerships. On Tuesday, the governor ordered the State Department of Health to update the rules that govern hospitals when they plan to expand or form affiliations.

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.