UC health to restrict ties to California Catholic hospitals

Merced College nursing student Rita Singh, 38, of Turlock, administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at a vaccination clinic inside the Merced College gymnasium in Merced, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. According to Merced College, the college partnered with University of California Health, UC Merced, Dignity Health Mercy Medical Center, Merced County and other volunteers and health practitioners to facilitate the clinic.

Merced College nursing student Rita Singh, 38, of Turlock, administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at a vaccination clinic inside the Merced College gymnasium in Merced, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. According to Merced College, the college partnered with University of California Health, UC Merced, Dignity Health Mercy Medical Center, Merced County and other volunteers and health practitioners to facilitate the clinic.

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The University of California this week rejected appeals to immediately break its health system’s contracts with religion-based hospitals that restrict access to abortion and gender-affirmation procedures, but it adopted a plan that could phase out those affiliations in coming years.

The new policy means UC hospitals can continue working with Catholic hospitals, such as ones run by Dignity Health.

The vote by the UC Board of Regents followed activism among pro-choice and LGBTQ advocacy groups to limit the publicly run health system’s partnerships with Catholic hospitals, which they say disproportionately discriminate against marginalized communities.

The policy in question centers on hospitals that restrict certain procedures including abortion, gender-affirming care for transgender people, in vitro fertilization services, and end-of-life services. Hospitals that restrict these services served about 35,000 UC patients in 2019.

Under a new policy passed by the UC Board of Regents Wednesday, hospitals that restrict care must still inform UC patients on all the available healthcare options and provide a referral if the hospital does not offer that care.

The initial recommended proposal, sent to the regents by UC President Michael Drake’s office, did not create a clear pathway for the UC to phase out hospitals that choose not to comply with the changes.

An amended policy, proposed by Chairman John John Pérez and passed by the regents, gives UC-affiliated hospitals with policy-based restrictions until the end of 2023 to adjust their services to comply to the new guidelines, or the UC will phase out the partnership.

Pérez’s amendments also say that partner hospitals must provide procedures to all people on a non-discriminatory basis, meaning that a transgender person can receive the same exact services that any other person would receive.

The amendments also require hospitals to provide emergency services when transferring a patient to another facility would be detrimental to the patient’s care. This would include cases where abortion is a medically necessary option, such as ectopic pregnancy.

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, proposed a bill this year that would prohibit the UC Health System from entering into contracts with outside health facilities that restrict the information or care a UC employee can provide patients. The bill was co-sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice California, Equality California and the ACLU.

After the amendments passed, Wiener said through a spokesperson that the new policy is a “positive step forward” for the UC’s affiliation policy, as it allows for UC physicians to use their own judgment in providing care rather than following hospitals’ policy-based guidelines.

University of California President Drake urged the regents to keep the affiliations in place because the partnerships often bridge UC healthcare to more rural locations that don’t have access to UC medical centers.

Merced, for instance, is home to a University of California campus. The only hospital in the city is run by Dignity, a Catholic-based organization.

“The university recognizes that such restrictions limit services for women, LBGTQ+ people, and those facing death, and therefore are not aligned with UC values. However, affiliations with organizations that have adopted such policies provide thousands of patients with access to (UC health) providers they would not otherwise encounter, thus expanding clinical access, and make available opportunities for critical educational rotations that the university is unable to offer on its own,” the proposal reads.

During the regents meeting, Pérez called attention to Drake’s remarks.

“That ‘however’ brushes off more than half the people that we’re supposed to be serving and most vulnerable communities,” said Pérez, a former California Assembly speaker.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

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Katherine Swartz is a summer reporting intern for The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau. She’s a senior at UC Santa Barbara majoring in global studies and film and media studies, and is editor-in-chief of The Daily Nexus.

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