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EPILOGUE: The Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Hospital Merger Controversy

By Sherry L. Blumenthal, M.D.

At the end of June 2012, a press release announced the planned merger of Abington Health (Abington Memorial Hospital, Lansdale Hospital, and Warminster Hospital) with Holy Redeemer Hospital. The medical Staff of Abington was informed of the plan at the same time. Included in the decision was that Abington Health would no longer provide “abortion” services.  The medical staff was not consulted in the planning, the chair of the OB/GYN Department was not involved in the decision, and the OB/GYN staff was kept “out of the loop.”

Of interest is that Abington Health is the much larger and financially healthy of the proposed “partners” and has always been secular.  Abington has a long tradition of providing comprehensive women’s health services to the community, including abortion. Many of the pregnancy terminations have been to preserve the health or life of the mother, or to terminate a genetically  or structurally abnormal pregnancy.  However, reproductive choice in general  has been a commitment.  Abington has performed only 64-70 abortions per year in 2010 and 2011, however, maintaining this service is crucial to the community. Abington also does the second highest number of deliveries in the state of PA, so it is a major center for women’s health care in the region.

The argument that women can have a safe legal abortion elsewhere in the area is spurious and also incorrect.  The legislature of PA is working on or has passed numerous bills to make it difficult or impossible for free-standing outpatient facilities, such as Planned Parenthood, to remain open. There is a “War on Women” across the country, intensified in this political climate. Many women comment that we  fought this war in 1973 with Roe v Wade, the decision was upheld again with Sandra Day O’Connor as the deciding vote, and the era of septic, botched illegal abortions was seemingly ended.  Hospitals were able to close their wards, affectionately called “septic tanks.” We are fed up with fighting and are angry.

That anger is now being focused on Abington Health, by using social media effectively, through a Facebook page “Stop the Abington Merger” and a petition on “change.org.”  Members of the local community Catholics for Choice, the Women’s Medical Fund, ACLU, the Women’s Law Project, Abington physicians and resident physicians in the OB/GYN Department have joined with mergerwatch.org to block the merger if necessary to preserve the secular rights of Abington Hospital.

The non-OB medical staff seems also to be adamant about keeping all Catholic doctrine out of Abington Hospital, and voted unanimously at a meeting last week to oppose the conditions of the merger. The OB/GYN staff met this week, with the CEO and Chair of Abington Health, and eloquently presented reasons to oppose religious interference. We all insist on the ability to practice medicine in the safest possible way, in keeping with our medical ethics and training. We are unwilling to compromise.

The Medical staff understands the financial realities of medicine at this time. The concept of a merger is not the problem.  We have concerns that there will be a financial “backlash” in the loss of patients, physicians, and donors. We have heard from “all of the above” and we do not believe these are idle threats.  The hospital has tarnished its image as a quality provider of broad medical services to the community by announcing its decision to compromise some of those services and adopt the religious principles of Holy Redeemer Hospital.

Those of us who have been loyal proud members of the medical staff hope that our voices are heard.  If the merger proceeds, it must do so with NO compromise to our practice of medicine, religious or otherwise. This must be “carved in stone” with no ability to reverse the decision.

Epilogue:

Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Hospital called off the merger Wednesday July 18, just a few weeks after the press announcement and notification of the medical staff first occurred. The decision is the result of a concerted effort by physicians, religious leaders, and the community to maintain the secular nature of Abington.

While abortion is the focus of news reports, the larger issue was imposition of Catholic doctrine upon the practice of medicine. Each group in opposition had different agendas, with concern that the prohibition would start with abortion and evolve into major reproductive and end of life issues. The issue of abortion is a lightning rod for many in the community who feel that the fight has been fought and refuse to tolerate a threat to this constitutional right. The factions in the community, which applauded the proposed prohibition, do not feel that abortion is medical care. Those of us who practice medicine disagree.

The resolution of this issue is a reaffirmation of the power of protest, and renews the faith of those on the Abington medical staff and those in the community that, in fact, our voices are heard. While Abington made a tactical error in the formation of the plan without medical staff input, they have redeemed themselves by the reversal of the plan. 

(See: Abington Calls Off Merger with Holy Redeemer)

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Sherry L. Blumenthal, M.D., M.S.Ed., F.A.C.O.G., practices GYN and performs GYN surgeries with Womencare OB/GYN in Willow Grove and Abington, PA. Dr. Blumenthal is Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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