1:10pm

Wed December 14, 2011
All Politics are Local

Group Urges Beshear to Block Hospital Merger

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The Washington D.C.-based organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State is asking Governor Steve Beshear not to approve the pending merger between University of Louisville Hospital, Jewish/St. Mary’s Health System and a division of Catholic Health Initiatives.

The group argues that U of L Hospital is public and any deal that would put it under religious medical directives is unconstitutional.

From the statement:

“Because of the Catholic Church’s opposition to sterilization, for example, University Hospital will no longer offer certain medical procedures, like tubal ligations, and certain medications, like birth control, that it currently provides,” reads the letter. “Revising a public hospital’s policies to adhere to a specific religious doctrine most certainly violates the [separation of church and state].”

The letter notes that University Hospital provides care for the indigent on behalf of the state government under an arrangement called the Quality and Charity Care Trust Agreement. Kentucky government, AU argues, cannot tailor this care to theological mandates.

Observes the AU letter, “University Hospital, when it administers no-cost care to indigents under the Quality and Charity Care Trust Agreement, is providing a government-funded public service. That service should not be infused with or limited by religious considerations. If University Hospital stops offering certain services because of religious strictures, indigent and low-income patients may not have other safe and reliable options for receiving those services.

“We urge you not to approve the merger,” the letter continues, “both because it is unconstitutional and because it will make it difficult or impossible for the neediest patients to receive complete medical care.”

Attorney General Jack Conway—who also received the letter—has declared it public, and some documents will be released to Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell this week. Hospital executives, however, have gone to court to defend their position that the hospital is private.

A request for comment to Beshear’s office was not returned.