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Lawmakers Ask Hospital Officials About Undoing Merger

Representatives from the University of Louisville, Jewish Hospital and a division of Catholic Health Initiatives discussed their facilities' pending merger during a General Assembly committee meeting today.

Committee members asked a series of questions about how reproductive and end-of-life care would be preserved after CHI takes majority ownership of University Hospital. Hospital staff will have to follow Catholic medical directives, and some lawmakers posed specific scenarios about contraception for rape victims and prenatal care for cancer patients.

Hospital officials explained that the medical school will not merge and staff will provide all currently-offered services, perhaps in a different facility.

"Where is the outside facility?" asked Representative Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville. "How is that gonna happen?”

Officials didn't know what that facility could be. Other hospitals have established secular facilities or enclaves to provide banned procedures.

Of particular note during the hearing were issues related to emergencies and childbirth. Many women opt to have their tubes tied after cesarean sections, but tubal ligations are banned under the church.  Chair of obstetrics-gynecology at University Hospital Sharmilla Makhija told the committee women usually schedule the procedure beforehand, and they could arrange to deliver at the other facility. But in the case of an emergency, that could change.

“If there is ever an emergency, it doesn’t matter what hospital she shows up at, she should be taken care of, based on standard of care practice," said Makhija. "She shows up at U of L, she will be taken care of under our standard of care best clinical practices."

A U of L official later told the Courier-Journal that the school is in talks to move tubal ligations, which the Catholic Church does not allow.

Since University Hospital is used to teach medical students, school officials noted that curriculum for U of L students studying in the hospital will not change.

But even if every detail of the merger is worked out, the Catholic directives could change in the future.

"Should the ethical and religious directives change or should anything else about the merger not work, we do have an opportunity to unwind the merger," says University Medical Center legal counsel Jennifer Elliott. "Should there be the circumstances to unwind, the University has the opportunity to buy out."

Elliot had no estimate for how much it would cost U of L to buy back the hospital.

Honi Goldman is a leading critic of the merger. She says the answers on care weren't clear enough and the only reassuring statement she heard during the meeting was that the merger could be undone if necessary.

"Board members change, archbishops change, popes change, companies get sold. So while it is hard to predict the future and plan for the future, it is comforting to know the merger as it is going to be can be undone," she says.

School officials say the merger is a financial necessity. They don't have a backup plan to remain financially stable if it isn't approved.


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