The number of Catholic-owned or affiliated hospitals in the United States has grown by 22 percent since 2001, and now 1 in 6 acute care beds is in a hospital connected to the church, according to a report released by MergerWatch.
The watchdog group found that due to mergers and acquisitions over the past 15 years, 14.5 percent of all acute care hospitals in the nation are now either owned by or affiliated with the Catholic church, according to the study. In 10 U.S. states, the number of Catholic hospitals is more than 30 percent.
The latest report updates a 2013 study and adjusts the methodology for what researchers consider a Catholic hospital, adding in facilities that were acquired by secular systems but still follow religious guidelines.
MergerWatch's goal, according to the study, is to protect patient rights through hospital mergers, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of philanthropic groups. Many hospitals connected to the Catholic Church follow directives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which bans contraceptive procedures or procedures to terminate pregnancy on religious grounds.
The report found that there are now 46 Catholic-restricted hospitals that are the "sole community providers" of short-term acute hospital care for people living in their geographic regions.
"In general, Catholic hospitals provide excellent care," Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch and one of the report's authors told Reuters. "Our concern is with these restrictions with reproductive healthcare."
These hospitals do vary in how closely they follow the Catholic directives. The ACLU has taken several Catholic health systems to court on behalf of patients, with mixed results, FierceHealthcare previously reported.
The Catholic Hospital Association did not respond to the report findings, according to Reuters.
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