The bishops are devouring all the hospitals

PZ warns of Catholic takeovers of hospitals, and links to an article in The Stranger, so I’m reading that article, and oh what do you know, what happened to Savita Halappanavar could happen right here in Seattle, too. I knew that, I knew it could happen all over the US, but The Stranger gives particulars.

But cases like Halappanavar’s exist in Washington State. In fact, they’ve happened right here in Seattle. “I was past 24 weeks when doctors at Swedish told me I was miscarrying,” explains the woman sitting across from me at the coffee shop. We’ll call her Mary. She’s asked to remain anonymous to maintain her privacy, but like Halappanavar, Mary is a thirtysomething professional who was eager to start a family with her husband. So they got pregnant the old-fashioned, church- approved way: missionary style, after marriage. Life was swell, and the ultrasounds looked good. And then Mary awoke in pain last year; there was blood. She was checked into Swedish Medical Center, Seattle’s largest nonprofit health-care provider. But unbeknownst to Mary, last year the hospital formed an alliance with Providence, a Washington-based Catholic institution that operates 32 hospitals in Alaska, California, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Per their new relationship, Swedish agreed to stop performing abortions except in emergency situations—you know, like when a woman’s life is at risk…

During Mary’s Swedish visit last year, “They said that they couldn’t save the fetus but it still had a heartbeat, so there was nothing they could do. They had to wait for the heartbeat to stop.”

Mary says she demanded an abortion but was basically told her options were to “wait for nature to take its course” or unhook herself, crawl out of bed, and find another hospital. “It was a nightmare,” she says. “It still is.”

At Swedish hospital!! That’s a big name around here, a big respected name. I certainly don’t think of it as a Catholic hospital, where abortions are denied even during a miscarriage. And it’s not a Catholic hospital, but that doesn’t matter, because for some fuck unknown reason it agreed to follow Catholic rules.

When Swedish entered into its new partnership with Providence and agreed to stop providing abortion services except in emergency instances, the administration took a proactive and somewhat admirable step: They pushed Planned Parenthood to open a clinic in an adjoining medical tower. That clinic, which is accessible by a breezeway, functions like any other Planned Parenthood clinic, offering everything from STD testing, abortion services, and sexual education to in-office female sterilization and vasectomies. “It was important to us that women continue to have the same access to services and not feel ostracized,” Charbonneau says. “But we wouldn’t enter into any deal with Swedish that would leave women coming into the ER in any kind of trouble. They have a commitment to me, in writing, that there will be no women getting hurt and no women dying.”

Charbonneau says that Swedish has kept its word and has performed emergency abortions in its hospital.

Well isn’t that just enormously big of them, but what the hell are they doing agreeing to stop providing abortion services in the first place?! What are they doing letting Providence – a Catholic hospital-mafia – set the rules?

Catholic institutions across the nation are merging with secular hospitals, clinics, and even small private practices at an unprecedented rate. Optimists explain that the consolidation and shared infrastructure help reduce costs. Pessimists point out that the aggressive mergers come at a time when Catholic bishops are exerting and expanding their authority. “I see it as a conscious effort to achieve through the private market what they failed to achieve through the courts or at the ballot box,” says Monica Harrington, a San Juan Island resident who’s spent the last year fighting a Catholic hospital in her town.

And not just the private market, but the private market that gets to stick its claws in whether you live or die. This is a fucking outrage.

And they deny choice in dying, too, and in some counties in Western Washington they already control the whole ballgame.

It is an outrage.


  1. says

    Unfortunately, the splatter extends beyond Swedish. My doctors are with the Polyclinic; all doctors at the Polyclinic are required to have residency at Swedish. So if you are a patient of the Polyclinic, you WILL end up at Swedish.

    I am already on three of the Church’s “better off dead” lists, so I am transferring my care to another group of doctors.

    Right now, there is only one secular hospital group in Seattle that I know of, which includes Virginia Mason and the University of Washington Medical Center. I’m not sure about Group Health.

  2. Claire Ramsey says

    Christ. I was born in fucking Swedish.

    I can’t wait to find out how much their fees for services will be reduced, now that they are realizing fabulous cost savings.

  3. says

    @Claire Ramsey: you mean now that they have a more dominant market position? Cross-posted from PZ’s blog (original here):

    Having recently read Steven Brill’s article in Time about rising health care costs, I can’t help but wonder if it’s really the ideology that is driving these takeovers, or just that this is where the money is right now. Traditionally, the Catholic Church invested a lot of its money in real estate, but that isn’t really a secure market right now. The health care system, on the other hand, is doing fantastically. As Brill points out, hospitals are often the biggest employers in the area. And the reason they’re doing so well, he notes, is because health care is the ultimate seller’s market. Patients don’t choose to become customers, and they don’t have a clue about the prices beforehand. This means that hospitals can get away with charging giant markups. Creating larger conglomerates of hospitals allows for even better market positions. So Catholic hospitals taking over other hospitals seems to be part of an overall trend of hospitals merging and taking over competitors, a trend that can be seen all over the US.

    So my guess is that the motivation for expanding their network of hospitals wasn’t so much an elaborately orchestrated scheme by the Catholic Church to win the abortion and euthanasia war – although I’m sure they regard it as a major bonus – but rather the much more direct motivation of money.

    Either way, it’s not a good development for the patients. At all.

  4. iknklast says

    The biggest irony in all of this is that I’ve read in a number of studies that the Catholic Church really doesn’t put much money into the hospitals at all; the money comes from the same place other hospitals get their money: insurance companies and the governmen (Medicare, Medicaid). The Catholics merely collect the cash, they don’t hand it out.

  5. Dave Ricks says

    From the article:

    When pressed for details on what turns a prohibited, elective abortion into an allowable, necessary abortion, her answer is vague. “It wouldn’t be appropriate to speculate on a hypothetical patient scenario,” she says. (A spokesperson for Swedish echoed this position.)

    I read that to mean the hospitals have ethical guidelines, but “It wouldn’t be appropriate” to tell the public what they are.

    Evidently the first rule of Catholic hospital ethics is: You do not talk about Catholic hospital ethics.

  6. Trebuchet says

    I’m in Snohomish County, where Providence is utterly dominant. Fortunately I’m an old, straight, white guy but it still bothers me to go to my doctor and see a cross on the wall in the exam room. Interestingly, when I broke myself in December, Providence didn’t want to deal with it and shipped me off to Harborview. That’s run by the U of Washington so is pretty solidly secular.

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