Support for change in hospital certification

Testimony focuses on recent mergers that drew attention to Catholic hospitals and policies on abortion, suicide

rboone@theolympian.comNovember 27, 2013 

Providence St. Peter Hospital Critical Care unti.

STEVE BLOOM; STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

About 100 people attended and 36 took part in sometimes lively and emotional testimony Tuesday at a public hearing on whether to expand the state’s certificate of need process — a process used in determining whether new hospital services will be approved.

Most of those who testified at the two-hour meeting said the proposed changes don’t go far enough and that more should be done to make Catholic-affiliated hospitals more open regarding their stances on birth control, abortion and assisted suicide.

Following a directive from Gov. Jay Inslee to the state Department of Health in June, the state is proposing changes that would make hospital mergers and affiliations — not just services and procedures — subject to the certificate of need process. Inslee said the process has “not kept current with the changes in the health care delivery system.”

As part of the proposed changes to the certificate of need process, hospitals would have to submit data to the Department of Health on their policies related to access to care, including end-of-life care and reproductive health care, and two procedures — assisted suicide and abortion — that Catholic-affiliated hospitals don’t typically perform.

A more typical current certificate of need process would be what Capital Medical Center recently underwent in order to offer a heart-related procedure known as angioplasty in non-emergency situations.

If changes are approved, access-to-care policies would be posted on the Department of Health website as well as on hospital websites.

Catholic hospitals have been active in recent hospital deals, including the affiliation between Swedish Health Services and Providence Health and Services, which was announced last year.

During Tuesday’s two-hour meeting, most of those who testified said the proposed changes don’t go far enough.

Among those who testified to that effect were representatives of unions, such as SEIU Healthcare 1199NW — which also took the opportunity to remind the audience about its ongoing health care coverage dispute with Providence St. Peter Hospital — and the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 21; the Washington Community Action Network; the ACLU of Washington; and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.

Janna Ryan of Olympia told an emotional hospital story and offered her view that hospital transparency and accountability online would be a step in the right direction.

In 2006, when she was a college student in the Spokane area, Ryan was admitted to the emergency room of a Catholic-affiliated hospital for severe abdominal pain. While there, the emergency room doctor “put his personal beliefs and opinions ahead of my care in a life-threatening situation,” she told the audience.

Ryan eventually learned she had an ectopic pregnancy. During her stay, she said, the doctor treated her with “condescension and disrespect, to the point of violating my right to privacy.”

The doctor also called Ryan’s mother without seeking consent, reporting that her daughter was pregnant and in critical condition.

“No one should have to be treated the way I was,” she said.

Frances Blair of Steilacoom said the nearest hospital to her home has ties to the Catholic Church and that if she has surgery, they “will not abide by the end-of-life directives I have made.”

Those who testified in opposition to the proposed changes were in the minority. They included a representative of the Washington State Hospital Association and Dr. Patricia O’Halloran of Tacoma.

O’Halloran said arguments about Catholic hospital stances on abortion and assisted suicide were red herrings, pointing out that the vast majority of abortions are performed in outpatient settings and that assisted suicide — which the state allows — doesn’t take place at a hospital but at home.

In addition to the 36 public and written comments that were heard during the meeting, the Department of Health also received about 900 comments online, said Bart Eggen with the Department of Health.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com

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