Physicians and patients are watching a pending $611 million sale of Exempla Lutheran Medical Center in Wheatridge and Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette to Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, a Catholic organization in Kansas.
At issue are the “ethical and religious directives” that many hospitals owned by Catholic organizations must follow, according to the Rocky Mountain News. Medical staff at these hospitals cannot give birth control counseling or perform related medical procedures. The Archdiocese of Denver has urged parties in the sale to follow the directives.
Lutheran doctors performed 378 tubal ligations, four medically necessary abortions and seven vasectomies at the hospital last year, according to Carla Murphy, an emergency room physician and president of the hospital’s more than 900-member medical staff. The abortions were as a result of medical emergencies to the mothers or the fetuses.
Murphy said doctors also wouldn’t be permitted to take a person in a vegetative state off life support even if that’s what the patient directed through a living will.
The St. Anthony hospital system – which is planning a new site in Lakewood that would make it the only other hospital in Jefferson County – is owned by a different Catholic group. Birth control procedures are not performed there.
Lutheran’s medical staff is writing a letter of opposition to Attorney General John Suthers, and leaders of that group are scheduled to meet with Suthers’ office Friday. Suthers has the option to block the sale. Because of a 1999 state law, Suthers can take action against the sale of a non-profit if he determines it would result in a “material change” in services.
The hospital’s medical peer review committee, a panel of doctors who check cases for safety and quality of care, has threatened to resign because members don’t want to police doctors with regard to the religious directives. Doctors are threatening to leave the hospitals because they don’t want to compromise care. And that will hurt patients.
There are big implications this transfer will have on Kaiser and Cigna enrollees’ choice of heathcare settings for reproductive and end-of-life services, meaning they will be have to travel miles to find another doctor and hospital willing to treat them. They also may have to go ‘out of network’ to get needed services, resulting in a higher co-pay. The word on the inside is that Kaiser is not happy with how Sisters of Charity is moving ahead with the transfer without sufficiently negotiating with them. They could file for breach of contract.
Exempla also opposes the sale. William Jessee, a doctor and chair of Exempla’s Board of Directors, wrote a letter to Suthers on Nov. 1 expressing concerns over the medical restrictions.
If you would like to contact Attorney General John Suthers about this merger, the phone number is (303)866-4500 and his email address is [email protected].
There is also an informational meeting Saturday, December 1st at 9:00 a.m. (more info).