Fact Check: PeaceHealth at Bellingham CityClub Meeting June 26, 2013

On June 26, PeaceHealth CEO Nancy Steiger and PeaceHealth legal counsel appeared on a panel alongside the ACLU’s Sarah Dunne.  The following Fact Check relates to assertions made during the panel discussion.

Assertion:  PeaceHealth has always expanded services and never cut services.

Fact:  Previously there were no specific restrictions on services at Interisland Medical Center (IMC), the medical clinic that PeaceHealth’s new facility “replaced.”  (The PeaceIsland facility was touted as an expansion and upgrade.)  Now, for the physicians who previously worked at IMC, but who now work as employees of PeaceHealth, services are restricted according to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care.   And an ob-gyn who leases space at the PeaceIsland facility is restricted by lease agreement from providing certain services that conflict with Catholic doctrine.   Furthermore, because Interisland Medical Clinic provided maternity services and was subsidized through the authority of the hospital taxing district, it would have been illegal under the terms of the Reproductive Privacy Act for the hospital district commissioners to fund maternity services without also funding abortion services. So either there was no policy about whether abortions could be performed or there was a violation of State law.

Assertion:  None of the doctors at Interisland Medical Center ever provided abortions or Death with Dignity services.

Fact:  There is no way for PeaceHealth to know what went on between doctor and patient at Interisland Medical Center.  While it’s plausible that doctors who were interviewing for employment at Catholic PeaceHealth (because Interisland Medical Center, the clinic they worked at previously was closing) might have said they never provided abortions or helped patients to exercise their Death with Dignity rights, no one will ever know with certainty what services were provided at the secular, tax-subsidized facility that preceded PeaceIsland.

Assertion:  PeaceHealth holds sacred the privacy of the relationship between doctor and patient.

Fact:  In an era of electronic medical records, it’s simply not true that PeaceHealth doesn’t know what doctors do or don’t do or what services they provide.  And in fact, the broad assertion above that doctors previously employed by Interisland Medical Center NEVER did abortions or assisted patients with Death with Dignity means that PeaceHealth has no problem asking doctors about what happens in the “sanctity” of the exam room.

Fact Check: Seattle Times 4-28 article

Following is fact check on the assertions made in Seattle Times April 28 article:  Hospitals’ Proposed Affiliation with Catholic Health Systems Opposed

Assertion: “In Washington’s mostly rural public hospital districts, communities previously haven’t taken issue with Catholic ethics,” said Jeff Mero, executive director of the Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts.

Fact: Because Catholic health care groups don’t disclose what their policies actually are, communities don’t have the information they need to raise thoughtful objections.  Case in point:  On San Juan Island, several donors to the new PeaceIsland Medical Center, which is run by PeaceHealth, had no idea they were donating to a hospital system that would restrict care for religious reasons.  That’s because the appeal to donors was all about expanding care, not restricting care.  When citizens did object regarding Catholic influence to the hospital district commissioners, they were rebuffed and essentially told that their concerns were not valid.

Assertion:  Peter Adler, PeaceHealth’s chief strategy officer, says his “system always has been “completely transparent” about its values from the outset.”

Fact:  What PeaceHealth has repeatedly declined to do is provide transparency about its policies.  When it announced the partnership with Catholic Health Initiatives last summer, PeaceHealth refused to provide any information about what policies would be in place when the deal was completed.  That deal is now “suspended” but both sides have made clear they want to work together in the future.

Assertion:  “We have always expanded services.”

Fact:  PeaceHealth expands some services and eliminates others.  On San Juan Island, for example, previously patients had access to ob-gyn care that was unrestricted.  Similarly, there were no restrictions against a physician working with a patient who wanted to exercise his or her rights under Washington’s Death with Dignity Laws.  Now, reproductive rights are severely curtailed and PeaceHealth physicians are restricted from assisting patients who want to exercise their Death with Dignity rights.

Assertion:  According to PeaceHealth’s Sister Pruitt, “people have a right to basic health care, but institutions also have a right to set policies.”

Fact:  Institutions have a right to establish policies, but they do not have a right to accept a taxpayer subsidy to advance a religious agenda, and that’s the issue here.

Asssertion:  “PeaceHealth considers any doctor-patient conversation sacred and confidential.”

Fact:  PeaceHealth says on its website that it follows the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, and in the directives themselves is specific guidance that says that the relationship between a doctor and a patient exists solely within the context of the Catholic Church/physician/patient relationship.

Assertion:  “PeaceHealth considers any doctor-patient conversation sacred and confidential, Pruitt says — even if it’s about contraception or end-of-life options — and defers to doctors about whether a procedure is “medically necessary.”

Fact:  PeaceHealth was poised to enter into a relationship with Catholic Health Initiatives, which requires strict compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives.  Requiring a doctor to come up with a “medically necessary” diagnosis to justify contraception means that doctors who want to help their clients access contraception must falsify records.  Contraception is not “medically indicated” if the sole reason a patient wants it is to avoid pregnancy.

Assertion:  Highline CEO Mark Benedum says his hospital will remain secular but will align its policies with Franciscan’s: “We can’t do anything at Highline that would cause the Franciscans to fall out of compliance with the ethical agreement.”

Fact:  The Highline CEO is wrong.  A hospital is not secular if it adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care.  The very definition of Catholic health care is health care that is guided by those directives.

One thought on “Fact Check: PeaceHealth at Bellingham CityClub Meeting June 26, 2013

  1. Dina Lofgren

    Please keep me updated on any additional comments made on this site. it is very interesting and I feel its very unfortunate that religous aggendas are in our health care sytem period! A person has the right to choose thier own religion AND make a choice for thier own body!


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