Impact of growth in church-owned health care services

The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of health care services in the United States. According to the Catholic Health Association, as of 2022, it represents 654 hospitals across the country.

Health care in these hospitals is governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those directives prohibit abortion, contraception, gender confirmation treatment, most fertility treatments, and physician-assisted death.

If patients at a Catholic hospital are not seeking services that conflict with the directives, then having health care services in underserved communities is a benefit to the public. However, for many women of limited means, these directives pose serious risks to their lives and reproductive health. In this context, consider that four out of the 10 largest health care systems in our country are Catholic.

Community Catalyst, a leading non-profit national health advocacy organization, issued a 2020 report on the growth of the Catholic health care system. The report noted that historically Catholic hospitals that were purchased by for-profit systems may still be following the directives as a condition of the sale.

Moreover, non-Catholic, non-profit hospitals that have merged with Catholic facilities are often required to adopt all or some of the directives, and public hospitals that are being managed by Catholic health systems may have agreed to eliminate any services that conflict with them.

The impact of such acquisitions and mergers is being felt in the Capital Region where St. Peter’s Health Partners, owned by Trinity Health, has taken over the majority of hospitals in the region. St. Peter’s Health Partners does not offer a full range of reproductive health services. Moreover, continuing merger negotiations between St. Peter’s and Ellis Medicine in Schenectady County, if finalized, could deprive an already underserved community of reproductive care options.

Health care in our country should not be dictated by religious dogma. Health care should be a private doctor-patient matter.

Don Steiner 

Schenectady

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