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REVIEW: Abington Docs Speak Up On Holy Redeemer Merger; Women's Health at Risk

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that about 150 physicians affiliated with Abington Memorial Hospital met there Wednesday and decried its plan to stop performing abortions as part of a partnership with nearby Holy Redeemer Health System, according to doctors at the meeting. With growing community outcry over the proposed merger, the physicians’ disapproval may be enough to undermine it, or at least prompt a reappraisal of the terms, some doctors believe.

“During the year of negotiations behind closed doors, no staff or community members were involved in the decision-making process,” wrote the 20 residents in Abington’s ob-gyn program, in a letter they released after the meeting. “There is strong opposition to having our medical practice dictated by Catholic doctrine rather than our patients’ best interests and standard of care.”

Abington Hospital has earned its reputation one of the leading teaching hospitals in the Philadelphia area as it attracts some of the finest medical residents in family and internal medicine, surgery, and OB/GYN.  The quality of its residents have helped Abington achieve its status. However, several physicians have said that Abington’s ability to recruit the best residents is in jeopardy.  Why would a top OB/GYN resident choose Abington when they would be prohibited from performing a significant medical procedure?

Abington performs more than 5,000 deliveries a year and in the last two years has performed 64 to 70 abortions a year, with the hospital setting providing a certain level of safety for the procedure, said Dr. Sherry Blumenthal, a member of Abington’s OB/GYN department . A large number of the abortions are performed for medical reasons, she told Montgomery News, adding “there have been some emergency ones.”

In one instance, a woman, who was 19 weeks pregnant, had her water break and went to the Holy Redeemer ER, where it was determined that both the woman and the fetus had a serious infection, Blumenthal said. Neither would have survived, but since Holy Redeemer could not perform an abortion, the woman was sent to AMH, where “an Abington physician saved her life; now they would not be able to.”

Lisa Jambusaria of Los Angeles, who is in the final year of her four-year ob-gyn residency training, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she would never have applied to Abington if she had known abortions would be banned. “We are one of the rare hospitals that provides these services,” Jambusaria said.

According to the Women’s Law Project, Catholic health systems are slowly monopolizing health care across the country.  As of 2011, approximately one-fifth of all hospital admissions in the United States and between 10 and 20 percent of admissions in Pennsylvania are to Catholic hospitals.  These systems impose their religious beliefs, contained in the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” on patients of all backgrounds and faiths, interfering with the medical practitioner-patient relationship.

The result of this policy in practice could be that women in need of abortion, possibly needed to save their lives, may have a delay in treatment or may require a transfer while they are unstable to a non-Catholic hospital.  Abington may thus become vulnerable to medical malpractice lawsuits and claims for violations of the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) for putting religious doctrine before women’s health.

In a letter to Abington’s CEO Larry Merlis, several Rabbi’s from the synagogues near the hospital explained that “Jewish tradition mandates an abortion in the event that carrying a fetus to term would endanger the life of the mother. In making the decision to no longer provide abortions at AMH, you are in effect saying that one religious tradition’s teachings should take precedence over all others. Should AMH commit to this path and refuse to perform abortion services, it would seriously undermine its status as a community hospital in any meaningful sense of the term.”

As of July 12, more than 4,400 people have signed a petition on change.org which, in part, states that “We are especially concerned that AMH is subjecting itself to a sectarian ideology that eliminates abortion services as AMH has stated and will impact: End-of-life issues; Contraceptive services for employees and patients; Respect of Do Not Resuscitate orders and advance health care directives; Stem cell treatment; Infertility treatment; Domestic partner rights; Resident and fellowship training.”

Shortly following the merger announcement, Abington released a statement saying that it would provide “all reproductive health services except abortion,” including contraception counseling and services, tubal ligations, vasectomies, infertility services, emergency contraception for rape victims and others, and “all necessary measures to preserve the health of the mother.”

MergerWatch, an organization that follows hospitals mergers across the country, claims that community hospitals are merging with other hospitals or health systems to relieve financial stress. When the merger is with a religiously-sponsored health system that uses doctrine to restrict care, the consequences can be serious for patients.

As for the final outcome of the Abington/Holy Redeemer merger and its effect on patient care, those details will be spelled out during the next three months while the hospitals conduct a period of due diligence.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

6 comments

  1. People may recall the 2010 case of St Josepth’s Hospital in Phoenix.

    By DAN HARRIS (@danbharris)

    Dec. 22, 2010

    An Arizona hospital’s decision to terminate a pregnancy to save a woman’s life has resulted in the loss of its Catholic affiliation.

    The fallout comes after a nun at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix allowed an abortion to take place to save the mother’s life.

    Last fall, a 27-year-old mother of four entered the hospital 11 weeks pregnant and was suffering from pulmonary hypertension.

    Doctors said if her pregnancy wasn’t terminated, she would likely die of heart failure – taking her unborn child with her.

    The decision to terminate was approved by Sister Margaret McBride, a longtime senior administrator at the hospital. But when Bishop Thomas Olmstead of the Diocese of Phoenix heard about the abortion, he excommunicated McBride.

    Having an abortion is against Catholic teachings.

    Although the move caused an uproar, with some critics pointing out that even pedophile priests weren’t excommunicated, Bishop Olmstead went a step further on Tuesday.

    He stripped St. Joseph’s Hospital of its affiliation with the Catholic Church.

  2. I am deeply concerned that Abington says that it will continue with all other contraceptive services including sterilization. How can this merger be approved by the Bishop? Regarding abortions, very few hospitals in the US now perform abortions. The big issue is contraceptive services.

  3. Jon P. Tue- Ask Susan G. Komen if the country is getting more “prolife” everyday. Their financials suggest not. Also, if a Catholic or non-Catholic patient does not want an abortion, that’s fine. The problem is that Catholic hospitals impose their anti-choice belief on people who need or want to terminate a pregnancy, which does not conflict with everyone’s belief system. Take a look at the Catholic Directives on extra-uterine pregnancies to see whether you’re right that the Church “does not oppose abortion where the mother will die.” I believe you are wrong. The issue goes beyond reproductive health too, I’m afraid. Check out Directive 24 to see one such example.

  4. Women have the right to a hospital that doesn’t put religious doctrine before our health. That’s not a science issue, it’s a religious one. No one is hating on Catholics, we’re hating on a non-secular hospital joining forces with a Catholic hospital. I do start to have a problem when Catholics feel they have a right to make decisions for my atheist life. I support the Catholic right to not have an abortion, and the Catholic hospitals right to not preform them. I also respect a womans right to choose and a non-secular hospitals right to give women whatever healthcare they need or choose. Religious freedom works both ways.
    Unless pro-lifers are willing to support unwanted children to adulthood with their own money and time, they need to stay out of everyone else’s uterus.
    This isn’t a science issue, it’s clearly a religious one. How do you know doctors who “support killing humans in their moms womb” didn’t abort to save the womans life? You just said thats justifiable in the Catholic religion.

  5. “There is strong opposition to having our medical practice dictated by Catholic doctrine rather than our patients’ best interests and standard of care.”

    What??? The unborn child is a patient as well. Also, why try to hate on the Catholics? There are MANY, MANY people in our country who are not Catholic who oppose abortion as well (and the Catholic Church DOES NOT oppose abortion where the mother will die if she doesn’t abort the child).

    Start looking around you. Our country is becoming more and more prolife everyday. This is not a religious issue. This is a humanitarian and science issue.

    If you are a doctor who supports killing humans in their mom’s womb, go work for Planned Parenthood. There are many prolife doctors waiting to fill your spot.

  6. Raphael M. Barish

    Although I am not a fan of abortion on demand, AMH is making a huge mistake by considering the Holy Redeemer edict. As a male who has utilized the services of AMH, including their hospital-based physicians for several decades, I am appalled that AMH would even consider this “joint venture”. There are any number of life saving procedures that could eventually follow this activity into oblivion.

    I am now ready to make a wholesale change to my medical services if AMH proceeds with this rather foolish decision.

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