Conway to review hospital merger

Catholic partner's restrictions on pregnancy prevention at issue

July 22, 2011 

LOUISVILLE — The state's top consumer protection official said he wants to review a proposed hospital merger amid concerns that women may not have access to ways to prevent pregnancies at a Louisville hospital that serves as a safety net for the poor.

Attorney General Jack Conway said Wednesday it is his responsibility to question the pending merger of Louisville's University Hospital with two private hospital companies.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer also met Thursday with U of L President James Ramsey to determine how University Hospital will handle reproductive care.

"This issue will not go away from the city's perspective until these issues are addressed with some concrete action plans and the citizens are happy that the service level is there," the mayor said in an interview with the newspaper. "If we're having this same conversation a month from now, that'll be a problem," Fischer added.

The lead partner in the merger is Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives, and The Courier-Journal reported Sunday that after the merger, the hospitals involved would not perform tubal ligations to prevent pregnancy because of the Catholic Church's opposition to sterilization.

"We're going to take a look at what role we have, if any," Conway told the newspaper in an interview, saying he wants to make sure consumers and taxpayers are protected.

Conway said he wants to know more about the tubal ligation policy as well as other issues raised by merging University with Jewish Hospital & St. Mary's HealthCare and the Lexington-based St. Joseph Health System, part of CHI.

CHI will own 70 percent of the new organization. The merging hospital systems have said they will comply with Catholic health-care directives against sterilizations, abortions and some other reproductive procedures.

At a news conference Wednesday unrelated to Conway's statements to the newspaper, University of Louisville medical officials sought to address concerns that women will lose access to some reproductive health care after the merger takes effect.

They disclosed that a $15 million fund has been set aside to maintain that access, perhaps by building or renovating health-care facilities outside the merged system to get around the merger's prohibition of sterilizations at University Hospital. But they said they haven't determined just how that money will be spent or how they intend to ensure access to care.

David Dunn, U of L executive vice president of health affairs, and Edward Halperin, dean of the medical school, said other teaching hospitals that merged with Catholic institutions created organizations outside the merger to handle reproductive care, built a new surgical facility outside the merger, or made "structural" organizational changes within an existing hospital to enable procedures that are afoul of Catholic restrictions.

Officials of the U of L School of Medicine have said that the merger will not affect physician training and academic programs, including stem-cell research. They have noted repeatedly that the university, its medical school and its faculty doctors are not part of the merger — just University Hospital.

Halperin said that in settings other than University, faculty physicians will continue to provide abortions both for the purpose of ending pregnancies and for medical reasons when the mother has a serious health condition.

He said that faculty doctors have worked out ways to keep providing all current reproductive services except one — enabling pregnant women who rely on University Hospital to have a tubal ligation at the same time they deliver a baby through a C-section.

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