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Austin, Kingston Have Coped With Religious Hospital Mergers

Later this month, officials with University of Louisville Hospital, Jewish Hospital and Catholic Health Initiatives will address a General Assembly committee on the hospitals' pending merger.The principals were called before state lawmakers over concerns that reproductive and end-of-life services will be changed once the Catholic Health Initiatives owns a majority of the other facilities. CHI will hav ea 70 percent share of University Hospital and the doctors will follow Catholic health directives.How to provide vasectomies, abortions, contraception and other services has been a sticking point in many religious-secular mergers, but there have been solutions. In Kingston, New York, the state ordered a Catholic hospital to merge with a secular hospital. The two had considered merging before, but came to an impasse over where to provide abortions, vasectomies and related procedures."It would come up, 'We gotta merge to save money, we gotta do it,' and then it would just disappear because the argument over abortion was never resolved. But when the state said, 'You gotta do it or one of these hospitals is going to close,' well, they made it happen," says Paul Kirby with the Daily Freeman newspaper, who wrote about the issue.The two hospitals agreed to the construction of a women's clinic in the parking lot of a hospital."They do contraceptive counseling, things like that," says Kirby. "They call it reproductive services. That's what they supply there."In Austin, a floor of a public hospital was exempted from religious doctrine in a merger. That floor has become a women's hospital. The group Merger Watch has previously endorsed the "hospital within a hospital" and "hospital beside a hospital" solutions, though adds that neither is preferable to no merger at all.Both solutions were costly and both required separate management structures. U of L officials say they will protect all currently-offered services, but haven't said how, though $15 million will be set aside to do so.The merger must still be approved by federal regulators. Last week, Attorney General Jack Conway declared that the state must also approve the merger. He and Governor Steve Beshear have expressed concerns with the potential loss of services.