Consolidations Spur Conflict Between Hospitals and Church

Clashes between hospitals and religious, particularly Catholic, authorities have been making headlines lately and will continue to do so as consolidations force secular and religious institutions into delicate territory. The rift between hospitals and the Catholic Church seems to be widening — John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, said many Catholic healthcare providers have "grown apart" from the Church and have lost a sense of their religious identity.

These disputes are on the rise due to a variety of factors, including the increase in hospital consolidation and changes in Church hierarchy, according to a Washington Post report. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services, a document produced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that has served as the moral code for Catholic hospitals since 1971, is often the root of debate. The ethics committees of Catholic hospitals interpret these healthcare restrictions and regulations, with final judgment reserved for the local bishop.

A conflict over the directives — and specifically its ban of abortions — led to Phoenix's Bishop Thomas Olmsted revoking St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix of its Catholic affiliations. In 2009, medical staff terminated an 11-week pregnancy on a 27-year-old patient who, doctors determined, would die without the procedure.

Bishop Olmsted deemed it an abortion and said the hospital had violated other religious directives, such as offering contraceptive supplies. After St. Joseph's refused to acknowledge error and comply with directives, Bishop Olmsted stripped it of its status in Dec. 2010. Some officials have predicted a chilling effect after Bishop's Olmsted's decision, where female patients may have second thoughts before seeking care at Catholic hospitals.

Conflict has not only developed from specific healthcare regulations and restrictions, however, but regarding transactions as well. In New Hampshire, a potential affiliation between Catholic Medical Center in Manchester and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon has created a stir. Some Catholic and pro-life activists fear the deal will muddle CMC's religious identity. An activist, Barbara Hagan, has filed papers in the court case, claiming intervenor status and urging a delay.

In Maryland, religious and women's groups are urging state regulators to reject Holy Cross Hospital's proposal to build a new hospital in Montgomery County. The activists say Catholic restrictions on healthcare may put the health of low-income women and teens at risk. Supporters of the new hospital say the services restricted — such as fertility treatments, hormonal contraception and tubal litigations — are available and accessible elsewhere in the county.

Read more about Catholic hospitals:

- 8 Issues Surrounding a For-Profit Company’s Acquisition of Non-Profit Hospitals

- Rift Growing Between Catholic Church, Some Catholic Hospitals

- Abortion Showdown Again Puts Catholic Hospitals at Odds With Church; More Catholic Healthcare West Hospitals May be Targeted


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