Abington-Holy Redeemer hospital merger plan stirs up anger, questions

    Update: Abington Health has provided more details on the services it will offer under the proposed partnership with Holy Redeemer.

    The written statement provided to WHYY/Newsworks Wednesday evening includes specifics on end-of-life care and reproductive health:

    “A special committee has been formed to develop a plan, prior to a definitive agreement, to ensure all options are available in our community for women terminating a pregnancy.”

    Read the full statement from Abington Health.

    Questions and anger are piling up over a proposed partnership between Montgomery’s County Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health System.

    An agreement has been in the works for months, but area residents and even hospital employees say they were taken by surprise.

    A New York nonprofit group, the MergerWatch Project, is consulting with Southeast Pennsylvania consumers and doctors concerned about the alliance between a Catholic medical center and secular one.

    “We have checked Abington Hospital’s 990 IRS filing and discovered that they are still operating in the black,” said Lois Uttley who leads MergerWatch. “It’s puzzling to us why Abington Hospital would chose to partner with a hospital that appears to be financially struggling and brings with it religious health restrictions.”

    In a statement, Abington said its patients will have access to all reproductive health services except abortion, but Uttley’s not so sure.

    In other hospital mergers, she says, the abortion prohibition has affected the medical management of emergency miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.

    Other observers say they are waiting to see if employee health benefits will change.

    Nationally, a group of Catholic hospitals is suing the Obama administration over its mandate that employers offer birth control coverage.

    Widener University health law professor Susan Goldberg said she’s watching to see if the Abington-Holy Redeemer partnership will affect a patient’s ability to withdraw medical care, such removing the feeding tube of a patient in a persistent vegetative state.

    “They might not be able to do that,” Goldberg said. “It’s not particularly clear, because what is actively dying versus what is a chronic state is not always perfectly clear. The other piece of it is that, apparently, the way the policies are interpreted varies in terms of adherence to the Catholic bishops directive.”

    In 2009, the Catholic bishops said providing artificial nutrition and hydration is a hospital obligation and part of ordinary care.

    Representatives from both Abington and Holy Redeemer declined a request for an interview and more information on the outstanding questions.

    In a statement, Abington said many details will be addressed during a three-month due diligence period which began last week.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.