On May 1, 2014, I’ll be appearing on a panel in Port Townsend alongside Harrison CEO Scott Bosch and representatives from LegalVoice and the American Civil Liberties Union to discuss issues related to religion and health care. In preparation for that conversation, I wanted to provide background about Harrison Hospital, which was taken over by CHI/Franciscan in 2013.
Can you explain the organizational structure?
In August, 2013, Harrison Hospital in Bremerton, WA became part of the Franciscan Health System and thus part of Catholic Health Inititatives, an ultra-conservative Catholic health care ministry with $12.5 billion in revenue which reports directly to the Vatican, is technically an entity of the Catholic Church, and which requires all employees to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care as a condition of employment.
According to documents filed with Washington State on October 7, 2013, Harrison is now part of the Franciscan Health System. In a letter on Catholic Health Initiatives letterhead, CHI makes clear that Harrison is officially part of Franciscan: “SJMGroup, a non-profit tax-exempt corporation became the sole corporate member of Harrison and a corporate member of FHS (Franciscan Health System).”
In a footnote, CHI said in the same letter that “Franciscan anticipates changing the name of SJMGroup in the near future. We anticipate the new name will be Franciscan Health Ventures.”
Franciscan is wholly owned by Catholic Health Initiatives. On the Franciscan 990 for 2011, the organizational structure for Franciscan is explained as follows:
1) The sole member has the power to appoint, replace, or remove the members of the board of directors; and
2) The sole member of the organization is Catholic Health Initiatives, a Colorado non-profit organization.
Why does Scott Bosch, CEO of Harrison, insist that Harrison is “secular”?
I don’t know. Harrison is part of Catholic Health Initiatives, which reports to the Vatican and is part of the Catholic Church. The description of it as a secular entity mystifies me.
Bosch has said that Harrison does not have to follow all of the ERDs. Does that make it secular?
When an entity is controlled and owned by an entity of the Catholic Church, it is Catholic. A Catholic entity, by definition, is not secular.
But what about the fact that Harrison still allows doctors to provide birth control?
Over time, Harrison’s policies will mirror the policies of its parent organization, Catholic Health Initiatives. In a recent article, CHI Senior Vice President John DiCola made clear that it gradually brings all partners into the fold. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but we have a lot of programs and communications that help staff in our markets understand who we are–not just what we do, but how we do it. We also bring organizations into CHI by setting some standards and by enforcing those standards.”
What can people in Bremerton do?
Your hospital is now owned and controlled by the Catholic Church. As we’ve seen in other hospitals and medical facilities around the state and the country, the policies will change over time, likely under the radar of members of the community.
The time to have intervened was before Harrison was taken over.
In order to get any relief now, we need a systematic fix that is appropriate for the scale of the problem. And in order for that to happen, people need to show their outrage and demand change from politicians, business leaders, and through the legal system.
But haven’t other Catholic-secular partnerships worked out? What about Swedish?
Swedish is a wholly owned subsidiary of Providence Health Systems. it reports up through a management chain that is controlled by the Providence board. Insiders at Swedish report that the culture and rules at Swedish are becoming Catholic. Two concrete examples of how policies and culture are changing:
1) At the time the “affiliation” (which became a takeover) was announced, Swedish said the only change was that it would longer do “elective” abortions. Since then, the goalpost has moved, and now Swedish says it will only do “emergency” abortions. Women who are diagosed with a severe fetal abnormality or who learn that their fetus will never be viable cannot get an abortion at Swedish because that is not considered an “emergency.”
2) The legal, HR, and ethics teams have been combined, and Swedish senior leadership now undergoes Catholic Faith Formation leadership training, which was specifically designed to inculcate lay leaders into the values and traditions of the Catholic Church.
In a recent comment posted to an Open Letter to Swedish Donors, the former Chief of Medicine at Swedish said, “I am appalled by the heavily Catholic influence now being expressed (at Swedish). A leading general hospital in the the community should not be under the control of a religious organization. We did very well as an independently run, highly professional institution.”
What do you think is going to happen?
I don’t know and it all depends on Washington voters and citizens. Right now, Washington voters and citizens are complacent and it’s because so much of this is happening under the radar. It’s quite likely the catalyst for a groundswell will be a story or stories so horrifying that people can no longer ignore the problem of medieval rules dictating patient care. This was the case in Ireland, when an utterly preventable death of a young mother served as a catalyst to cause a nation to change its anti-abortion laws.
We’ve already seen that Catholic hospitals are willing to turn a miscarrying woman away and we’ve had situations here in WA where women’s lives and health have been put at risk. Perhaps one of them will end up being a plaintiff here.
Of course, some of the most vulnerable people are the dying. A volunteer from Compassion & Choices testified last Fall in Olympia about a patient who wanted to exercise his rights under Death with Dignity but instead ended up shooting himself. The volunteer believed it happened because the physicians in that area who work or need privileges at the increasingly powerful Catholic system no longer feel comfortable helping patients exercise their rights under the Death with Dignity law.
In addition to patient concerns, the workforce is at risk. Here in Washington State, employees of religious instititutions are exempt from Washington anti-discrimination laws that were specifically designed to protect people on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status. Now, if you’re gay or cohabitating and you work for a Catholic health care ministry, your job may be in jeopardy.
Some of the patient and employee stories have been made public by the American Civil Liberties Union and by reseachers and reporters who’ve been tracking these issues. Perhaps soon a patient or employee story will catch fire in social media and ignite the public to take action and demand that we no longer allow religious leaders to oversee and control the health care we all pay for.
But in the meantime, check out the ACLU’s website to learn more about what you can do and then do your part. This problem isn’t going to be solved unless we work together to make it happen.