Virginia Mason merger has health care advocates concerned

VIDEO: Virginia Mason merger has health care advocates concerned

SEATTLE — Virginia Mason and CHI Franciscan are planning a merger. The two health care systems signed a memorandum of understanding last week.

CHI Franciscan is a Catholic nonprofit health system, bound by ethical and religious directives. When merged with Virginia Mason, together, they would have 12 hospitals and more than 250 sites of care.

Virginia Mason’s planned merger has local civil rights and health care advocates speaking out. They are worried it will cut access to care, especially when it comes to reproductive rights and death with dignity.

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“I think it’s frankly awful, right. We’re dealing with the pandemic right now. The last thing we need is further restrictions on health care,” said Leah Rutman, health care and liberty counsel for the ACLU of Washington. “This is not what we need right now. We need hospitals standing up and providing more care, not less.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Washington worries it will not provide all care.

“Our laws are only our laws if you have access points to access these services. So, grave concerns about what this means for equity of access to care across the state,” said Kirsten Harris-Talley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.

“Of course with faith-based hospitals that are pro-life, the biggest concern with these hospital mergers is that there are huge limitations to access to abortion,” she said.

The ACLU is concerned Virginia Mason will discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

“Another concern we have is what happens when someone who is LGBTQ walks in and asks for care, and they’re asked to go elsewhere? Along with not obtaining the service, how does that make them feel?” said Rutman.

Also, end-of-life services — could end. That has Judy Kinney, the executive director of End of Life Washington, worried.

“If we lose Virginia Mason as a provider, we expect it’s harder to access death with dignity services. That can lead to more violent and painful deaths and suffering that no one wants for themselves or those they love,” said Kinney.

Virginia Mason told KIRO 7:

“We believe that this combined organization would benefit patients, the Greater Puget Sound community, and our region. We are confident that this partnership would transform health care through a better patient experience, more accessible care and better value. Should we reach a definitive agreement after our current due diligence, some services related to reproductive health and physician-assisted death could no longer be provided at Virginia Mason facilities.

“The physician-patient relationship is private, and we expect physicians would exercise their professional judgment with patients and would discuss all treatment options. If a patient seeks services we do not provide, then we would provide information about other providers.”