CATHOLIC HEALTHCARE WEST: Ventura County Star Profiles Reduced Services
A "mix of fiscal and ethical reasoning" that governs Catholic Healthcare West's hospitals in California has some lawmakers concerned that those policies "have limited the medical options available to women," the Ventura County Star reports. Formed by a merger of 12 Catholic hospitals in 1986, CHW is now the state's largest operator, running 46 hospitals, 18 of which were formerly secular. In accordance with Catholic doctrine, none of the hospitals provide in-vitro fertilization or abortion services. That concerns State Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Encino), who said, "If women fight for the right to choose and win through the law and access is denied (because) of so-called conscience clauses, it's really a back-door way to deny women reproductive health services." Earlier this year, Kuehl sponsored legislation requiring privately owned hospitals that use state funds, but do not provide reproductive services, to offer patients referrals and transportation to another facility. The proposal was defeated "after heavy lobbying by CHW." Carol Bayley, CHW spokesperson, said the company stays away from some reproductive services for "moral reasons," although she does admit that CHW has "required potential merger targets to drop ... [services] for other reasons." Ruth Margalit, a former employee of Anaheim Hospital, which was recently acquired by CHW, was part of a "very successful [IVF] program for eight years." She said, "Then CHW took over the hospital, and they said no more IVF, no more abortions, no more tubal ligation" (Smith, 9/20). Now working at Fertility and Surgical Associates in Thousand Oaks, Margalit said CHW believes that fertilization "has to take place in a natural way, in the body, not in the lab" (Smith, Ventura County Star, 9/20). She added, "I think their business is buying hospitals, cutting out programs they don't agree with philosophically, and then dropping them" (Smith, Ventura Country Star, 9/20).
A Fighting Chance
In response to CHW's plan to purchase Santa Clara county's Columbia South Valley Hospital, the California Women's Law Center announced the formation of the Santa Clara Health Access Coalition, which will try to "preserve reproductive health services." Although CHW has a "community model" that allows newly acquired secular hospitals to provide all reproductive services except abortion and fertility treatments, South Valley will run as strictly a Catholic hospital. After the merger, the nearest facility offering those services will be in the next county, 25 miles away. Susan Berke Fogel, legal director of the law center, said, "South Valley currently provides a full range of reproductive health services. This coalition was formed to assure these critical services are maintained" (CWLC release, 9/8).