News Human Rights

Merger of Health Giants Would ‘Strengthen Catholic Health Care’

Teddy Wilson

Catholic health system mergers have alarmed reproductive rights advocates, as these hospitals routinely deny medical care, citing Catholic doctrine as justification.

Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health announced Monday that the two nonprofit health systems are discussing a potential merger and have signed a “non-binding letter of intent to explore aligning their organizations,” according to a joint press release.

The merger, according to the release, would “strengthen Catholic health care,” and would result in one of the country’s largest nonprofit hospital systems by revenue, reported the Wall Street Journal. Dignity Health operates 39 hospitals in 22 states, and Catholic Health Initiatives operates 103 hospitals in 18 states.

Catholic health system mergers in recent years have alarmed reproductive rights advocates, as Catholic hospitals routinely deny medical care, citing Catholic doctrine as justification.

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One of the country’s largest Catholic health-care systems, Trinity Health Corporation, was sued last year after allegations of a systematic failure to provide appropriate emergency reproductive health services to pregnant people experiencing complications. Some pregnant patients turned away from these Catholic hospitals “have become septic, experienced hemorrhaging, contracted life-threatening infections, and/or unnecessarily suffered severe pain for several days at a time,” according to advocates who filed the lawsuit. 

A doctor in the Chicago area said in January that she would be unable to remove the intrauterine device (IUD) of a woman who had fallen and dislodged the device, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system, according to complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois.

This summer, a transgender man was denied a hysterectomy by a Catholic hospital in California that is part of Dignity Health.

About one in six hospital beds nationwide is in a hospital that follows Catholic directives, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Both Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives operate Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals and delivery hubs, according to Modern Healthcare.

The possible merger comes after the health systems announced last month the creation of Precision Medicine Alliance, a partnership between the health systems to treat cancer patients.

Catholic Health Initiatives has struggled financially. After the company’s debt-to-equity ratio increased from 50 percent in 2011 to 110 percent in 2015, the company reported a net loss of $568.1 million in the first nine months of fiscal year 2016, reported Modern Healthcare.

The merger talks are expected to continue through early 2017.

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