Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Maryland State Money Mixing With Religion

Abstracted from the Germantown Maryland Patch Newspaper.

Last week, Maryland's Board of Public Works approved a $7.95 million, 90-year lease to Holy Cross Health to build a 93-bed hospital on Montgomery College's Germantown campus, which will provide a range of health services to Montgomery county residents.

The problem, opponents say, is that Holy Cross is a Catholic hospital, governed by ethical and religious directives. Of special concern are reproductive health procedures and end-of-life care.

The root of the opposition to the hospital is that Holy Cross will not provide a full range of services. Because Holy Cross will be the first hospital licensed in Montgomery County in more than 30 years, critics say that it sets a bad precedent for the requirements of future hospitals in the county.

Holy Cross spokeswoman Yolanda Gaskins said hospitals are not required by law to provide all services listed by the American Hospital Association, and that Holy Cross provides 70 percent of all services.

"No hospital provides all services, and in fact, none of the hospitals in Montgomery County provide more than 70 percent of services listed by the American Hospital Association," said Kevin Sexton, CEO of Holy Cross, during testimony before the Board of Public Works.

One concern of opponents is the availability of emergency contraceptives to rape victims.

Police will not take rape victims to Holy Cross, said Linda Mahoney, president of Maryland NOW, "because they won't follow up a rape kit with emergency contraceptives."

Gaskins said this claim is false. "We will provide emergency contraception," Gaskins said.

Another claim of opponents is that Holy Cross will not provide tubal ligation to women who have given birth in the hospital.

A woman who has given birth will be sent elsewhere to receive the procedure, also known as having one's tubes tied, said Marissa Valeri, senior associate for domestic programs at Catholics for Choice. "It's not the best thing for the patient" to have to undergo a separate procedure, Valeri said. "Not all women know the number of services that won't be provided to them at Holy Cross."

Catholic hospitals do not perform tubal ligation, Gaskins said.

Opponents also say that Holy Cross will not provide a full range of end-of-life counseling and services.

Holy Cross has been a leader, said Gaskins, in providing palliative care to terminally ill patients.

Another controversial service is condom counseling for HIV/AIDS patients. Opponents say that Holy Cross will not provide counseling because the Catholic Church considers condoms a contraceptive rather than a preventative health care measure.

Because this type of counseling usually takes places in private doctors' offices outside the authority of the hospital, Gaskins said Holy Cross would have no control over what is discussed between a doctor and patient in those settings.

"Catholic healthcare providers have a role to play," Valeri said. "But they have to provide all the services a community needs. A majority of Catholics in the area want those services provided in community hospitals."

There is no clear process, said Beth Corbin of Americans United for Church and State, for addressing these problems. "The best option at this point would be to approve the other plan [by Adventist Healthcare to build a hospital in Clarksburg] or change the lease to guarantee that they will provide these services," either in the form of separate clinics or through referrals.

Now that the lease has been approved by the state, Montgomery County will have to approve the plans for the hospital, a process that will likely take the Montgomery County Planning Board several months. The earliest likely date for approval is September or October, planning board spokeswoman Valerie Berton said. Once approved, Holy Cross plans to begin construction as soon as possible, planning to open the hospital in 2014.

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