UC Health physicians push for stronger treatment protections with religious affiliates

The University of California's health system is renewing contracts with hundreds of outside hospitals and clinics, many with religious affiliations, and some of its physicians and faculty fear they could be barred from providing some forms of treatment to patients, the Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 11.

The health system contracts with affiliate hospitals and clinics to help deliver care to underserved communities. The arrangements generate more than $20 million a year for the UC system, according to the report.

The health system's current policy gives physicians the freedom to advise, refer, prescribe, or provide emergency care, covering cases in which moving a patient "would risk material deterioration to the patient's condition." Some UC Health physicians worry this language is too weak and would prevent them from providing treatment such as abortions or gender-affirming care at some religiously-affiliated hospitals.

Some physicians urge the system to update the policy to stronger language, while others have urged the university to reject partnerships with hospitals that have ethical and religious directives against sterilization, abortion, some miscarriage management procedures and some gender-affirming treatment due to "the potential for discriminatory impact on patients."

University leaders have publicly pledged to ensure physicians and trainees can provide care they deem necessary at affiliated facilities but have made no changes to the policy language.

"We've made it clear that the treating provider is the one to decide if an emergency exists and when to act," Carrie Byington, MD, executive vice president for University of California Health, said in the report.

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