Catholic healthcare may further limit rural patients access to care

The number of Catholic hospitals nationwide is on the rise, and their proliferation may restrict rural consumers’ already-limited healthcare options, according to Jefferson Public Radio.

One of the primary growth areas for Catholic providers has been in rural areas on the West Coast, according to the article; in Humboldt County, California, two-thirds of beds and about 1 in 3 doctors are associated with St. Joseph Health System, which affects patients’ options for both reproductive and end-of-life care.

In the wake of California’s right-to-die law, Bill Marks, M.D., St. Joseph Health’s chief medical officer, announced St. Joseph would opt out.

“I don’t see it as an option that’s going to be limited,” Marks told JPR. “I think there will be those physicians who are going to believe that everybody has that right ... and they do ... and if they can make the medical case for it in their conscience then they probably will participate. I don’t anticipate a shortage.”

The problem goes beyond the anecdotal; in many cases, Catholic hospitals actively hinder clinicians in providing referrals for reproductive services the systems themselves don’t offer, according to a new study published in Perspectives on Reproductive Health.

Researchers, led by Debra Stulberg, M.D., of the Department of Family Medicine, University of Chicago, interviewed 27 obstetrician-gynecologists at Catholic providers and found numerous reports that administrators and ethicists had tried to dissuade them from providing referrals for services such as abortion, contraception and sterilization.

“The ob-gyns we interviewed said that at some Catholic hospitals, referrals to Planned Parenthood, public health clinics, or non-Catholic hospitals were commonly offered, but other Catholic hospitals discouraged these referrals, or doctors had to provide them in secret,” Stulberg said in a statement. Ob-gyns also reported that some Catholic hospitals provided patients with full information and helpful referrals for a range of services but left patients to fend for themselves in seeking an abortion."

- here’s the JPR article
- read the study abstract
- here’s the statement