UW’s New Alliance a Tough Pill to Swallow

Washington is quickly becoming the state with the most Catholic-run healthcare, with University of Washington Medicine being the most recent secular healthcare provider to hop onto the bandwagon.

UW Medicine announced their affiliation with not-for-profit Catholic healthcare system PeaceHealth on May 20.

UW Medicine includes Harborview Medical Center, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, Valley Medical Center, University of Washington Medical Center, UW Neighborhood Clinics, UW Physicians, UW School of Medicine, and Airlift Northwest.

PeaceHealth was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and has hospitals and physician groups in the states of Alaska, Washington and Oregon.

Both have said that they will remain independent from each other, but many say that this will probably not hold true.
Critics have expressed concern over the dance these two organizations will be doing around the separation of church and state.

The outspoken Monica Harrington, editor of CatholicWatch, a blog about the interplay between the Catholic Church and healthcare, says that those who care about this separation should be scared by the affiliation, as well as those “who believe that UW’s medical training should be guided by the best practices of the medical profession and not by doctrine or clerics.”

In the past, there have been similar affiliations between healthcare and the Catholic Church. Swedish Medical Center struck up an association with Providence Health & Services last year, and has since stopped both its hospice service and elective abortions.

However, UW Medicine, like many other academic establishments, relies on collaborations with other organizations to keep up with the rapidly evolving world of healthcare. Both organizations have said that the association will be fruitful because of their common principles of loyal service to the community, providing quality healthcare at a reasonable cost.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington remains unconvinced, nervous because of agreements in the past between secular and religious healthcare systems that have ended up becoming taken over by Catholic values.

Additionally, the ACLU is worried that since UW Medicine receives taxpayer support, it could potentially violate the state constitution.

However, UW stands firm that its services will not be restricted by the Catholic values of PeaceHealth. CEO of UW Medicine and Dean of the UW School of Medicine Dr. Paul Ramsey has stated that the proposed “strategic affiliation” with PeaceHealth will not take the same path as last year’s affiliation between Swedish and Providence.

Rather, the UW-PeaceHealth union will establish dependable referral services for patients that cannot get the care they need at PeaceHealth.

Another concern is that UW’s medical students would be receiving training dictated by a religious agenda at PeaceHealth hospitals. However, the UW School of Medicine has clarified that their medical students already receive training from various hospitals in the area, including PeaceHealth and Planned Parenthood.

PeaceHealth abides by the bishops’ “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” a doctrine that dictates the practices within its healthcare institutions. By these regulations, PeaceHealth is forbidden to provide the following health services: contraception, vasectomies, tubal ligation, treatments issued from embryonic stem cells, in-vitro fertilization, and abortion. These directives are mandatory for all hospital employees to adhere to. They are also instructed to override any end-of-life wishes if they conflict with Catholic values.

For now, it is unclear how PeaceHealth’s directives will interact with UW’s advanced medicine, but in the Letter of Intent announcing the affiliation, the potential benefits were stressed and made very clear. Together, they will: “Provide comprehensive care with a seamless patient experience, identify opportunities for ongoing performance improvement initiatives to reduce costs while expanding access to specialized services, provide expanded opportunities for medical education throughout the region, [and] improve care delivery and respond to the changes needed to implement healthcare reform successfully.”

The Letter of Intent also explicitly stated that reproductive and end-of-life care will remain available to UW Medicine patients.

In a joint press release, Ramsay stated that “PeaceHealth and UW Medicine have worked together informally for years, and we are excited to collaborate at a deeper level to further our progress around continuity of care, evidence-based protocols and access to care in the local community by expert clinicians who are working together to improve the health of the community.”

There are no clear answers yet as to how UW Medicine plans to remain unaffected by PeaceHealth’s Catholic agenda in its future endeavors, but plans are expected to be solidified, and hopefully clarified, by Sept. 30 this year.

The editor may be reached at [email protected]