Part II: Growth of Religiously-Affiliated Healthcare Institutions: Our Path Forward

This is the second of a two-part series: Growth of Religiously-Based Healthcare Institutions. Read Part I: Why It Matters

Community Catalyst published a report, Bigger and Bigger: The Growth of Catholic Health Systems, noting that the number of Catholic-affiliated hospitals grew by more than 28% over the last two decades, even as the number of secular hospitals dropped by nearly 14%.

The growth of religiously-based healthcare puts in jeopardy our rights to: full transparency about the policies of the healthcare system; access to the full spectrum of options for end-of-life care, including medical aid in dying; and the ability to receive care in line with one’s values and preferences, regardless of one’s religious affiliation.  Read more about why this growth is such a concern in Part I of this series

We do have a path forward, one that reinforces the critical importance of an integrated approach to achieve patient-directed care for all Americans: 

  • Create/support legislation that allows physicians to opt-out without blocking care. We are actively monitoring and pursuing legislation that continues to give doctors the ability to opt-out of prescribing aid-in-dying medication without allowing them to impose their values in a way that would block care.
  • Develop innovative ways to ensure patients get complete information. The old adage, knowledge is power, has never been more apt than with healthcare. We must look for ways to ensure patients get clear and honest information about the full spectrum of end-of-life options to make informed decisions about where and what type of treatment they want to receive. (think cigarette warning labels). 
  • Protect the right of patients to information transparency in regulatory rules and court cases. In recent years, in collaboration with others, we have submitted comments in regards to the formation of the HHS Office of Civil Rights and participated in court cases to prevent rules that allow providers to withhold vital information from patients about their treatment options and deliberately disregard patient instructions about their end-of-life care preferences.   
  • Encourage adoption of patient-directed care policies. At the community efforts, we continue our successful efforts to convince as many health systems as possible to adopt supportive policies. We have had tremendous success in this regard with major health systems like Kaiser Permanente and hospice care facilities such as Seasons Hospice adopting supportive policies. 
  • Oppose consolidations and mergers of institutions that arbitrarily limit lawful options regardless of the patient’s religious beliefs. As resources permit, we will join with others to actively and vigorously oppose mergers between secular and religiously-affiliated healthcare, especially if the merger will leave a community with no other option. In recent years, along with others, we have successfully blocked mergers in California and Oregon. 
  • Expand education to physicians and pharmacists. We must continue our education efforts to reach doctors and pharmacists about the importance of practicing medical aid in dying. This past year, we conducted over 100 presentations to health care providers, and we are currently collaborating with the City of Hope on an 8-session webinar series that provides continuing medical education credits to providers and pharmacists around end of life care and autonomy. 

We are not alone in being concerned about the negative impact of religious health restrictions on patients’ access to healthcare. Organizations that support reproductive, maternity and LGBTQ rights share our concerns. More organizations opposing the implications of “religious exemption” policy provides more opportunities to make the case for protecting patient rights. 

Without question, we have a long road in front of us to ensure patient-directed care remains a priority for all healthcare systems. Yet, we must remain committed together to engage in this essential fight.  

Read Part I: Why It Matters.