Catholic inroads in WA lead to changes in hospital laws

Mounting concerns over the consolidation of hospital services in the Pacific Northwest has led to several changes in how Washington State governs inpatient providers, The Seattle Times reports.

A new law that goes into effect later this month requires any hospital undergoing a sale or merger to be subject to a Certificate of Need (CON) review. CON regulations had previously only covered the construction of new facilities or the expansion of existing ones.

And before any change in ownership takes place, the hospital will have to submit to state regulators copies of their policies on admission, discrimination, end-of-life care and the provision of reproductive services.

The changes were prompted by Gov. Jay Inslee, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal. Inslee responded after media reports that some of the largest healthcare providers in the state were coming under the control of Catholic healthcare systems, prompting concerns that patients would have limited access to abortions, fertility treatments and other reproductive services on a large scale.

The takeover of secular hospitals by Catholic operators has prompted concerns from reproductive rights advocates, and has even led to a recent lawsuit against the Conference of Catholic Bishops by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In one instance in Washington, Swedish Medical Center, one of Seattle's largest hospitals, stopped performing elective abortions after it affiliated with Providence Health & Services in 2011, according to The Seattle Times. Swedish came under public pressure to provide reproductive services off its campus in conjunction with Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.

"These rules should provide a transparent public review of mergers that result in a change of control among hospital systems in our state," Jason McGill, a spokesman for Inslee, told the Puget Sound Business Journal. "It's the right thing to do for transparency and to provide the public in affected communities an opportunity to be heard and their concerns addressed through a formal public process."

To learn more:
- read The Seattle Times article
- here's the Puget Sound Business Journal article