Community questions UC, Dignity Health partnership

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The partnership between the UC system and Dignity Health has been recently called into question over the health care provider’s denial of both abortions and gender-affirming care at some of its hospitals.

Dignity Health, a Catholic nonprofit health care organization, and a number of UC medical campuses have built relationships that offer specialized care based on the needs of individual communities. Seventeen of Dignity Health’s hospitals are Catholic sponsored, meaning they uphold a set of values and do not provide certain services, such as elective abortion and sterilization procedures. An ASUC resolution was passed Feb. 12 condemning the partnership after a chair of the California Democratic Party LGBT caucus, who is transgender, was denied care.

“UC expects that its personnel working or training at any clinical site – whether or not it is owned or operated by the University – will always practice medicine and make clinical decisions, consistent with applicable legal standards, using their own professional judgment, and considering the needs and wishes of each individual patient,” said UC Office of the President, or UCOP, spokesperson Andrew Gordon in an email.

According to Dignity Health spokesperson Dan Loeterman, the specialized services that Dignity Health provides, including pediatric trauma programs, cancer treatment programs and behavioral health units, would not be available without the partnerships between the two organizations.

About half of California’s doctors are trained through the UC system, according to a statement from UCSF. It added that, without training at outside entities like Dignity Health, the university would have to reduce its health-training enrollment.

The partnership, however, is questioned by some.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Varsha Sarveshwar said denying these services is “really unjust” to women and people in the LGBTQ+ community. She added that advocates of ending the partnership say it would send a clear message if the UC system did not work with people who deny care.

“It’s not like if we don’t enter into these contracts that these hospitals cease to exist,” Sarveshwar said. “We’re basically saying that UC medical staff and UC doctors are not going to go into and practice medicine in these places where they’re denying care.”

Many of the currently unavailable procedures are rarely performed in hospitals regardless of religious background, according to Loeterman. He added that if there is an immediate health need for the safety of the patient, then the procedure is performed regardless.

Loeterman said Dignity Health “strongly disagrees” that these programs should end. He added that many patients across the state depend on these programs. According to the statement from UCSF, the partnership with Dignity Health is important because it allows UCSF to provide access to high-quality health care for all patients, as many UC care facilities are limited by capacity and geography.

“We have thousands of really committed doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers who are on the front lines every day, and they care very deeply about the health of patients and communities,” Loeterman said. “We are deeply committed to providing care to everyone, regardless of who they are.”

According to Sarveshwar, UC President Janet Napolitano convened a task force called the Working Group on Comprehensive Access in August 2019 to debate the UC partnership with Dignity Health, but no decision has been made. The UC Board of Regents is expected to further discuss the matter in its March meeting.

According to Loeterman, some of the agreements between the UC system and Dignity Health are not as clear as they could have been. Gordon added that UCOP is in the process of updating existing contracts to revise language that may be inconsistent with UC values.

“However this conversation ends, a stakeholder group in the university is going to be very unhappy,” Sarveshwar said. “And, I think that’s a very difficult thing for the regents to deal with.”

Contact Tarunika Kapoor and Maria Young at [email protected].