CA congressional members pen letter opposing religious restrictions in UC health care affiliations

Dignity Health
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Members of Congress are asking the UC system to reconsider its relationships with outside health care systems, especially those with religious ties.

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On Wednesday, 39 California congressional members wrote a letter to the UC Board of Regents to oppose UC affiliations that may impose religious restrictions on health care.

In February, the ASUC Senate discussed the possibility of revising a contract with Catholic nonprofit health care provider Dignity Health. UC administration withdrew a potential expansion between UCSF and Dignity Health after the partnership was questioned over the denial of abortions and gender-affirming care at some of Dignity Health’s hospitals.

The UC system, however, continues to have a narrower relationship with Dignity Health and other affiliations that members of Congress, including Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said subject patients to religious rules that exclude LGBTQ+ patients and deny reproductive care.

The letter calls on the regents to vote against a proposal regarding UC contracts with outside health care systems because it does not definitively prevent religious directives from being applied to these providers. The proposal also does not state that prohibiting gender-affirming or reproductive health services violates the UC system’s nondiscrimination policy.

“UC must live up to its values and adopt guidelines that will cut ties with religiously affiliated health systems that discriminate and deny critical and life-saving care,” said letter co-author and U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, in a statement. “Women and LGBTQ+ people already face barriers to care that threaten their health, we cannot support religious policies that will make healthcare even more difficult to access.”

In response, UC Office of the President spokesperson Claire Holmes reiterated in an email the university’s commitment to nondiscrimination, adding that the services available at UC facilities are provided to all members of the community.

According to Holmes, the UC system expects personnel to make decisions consistent with a high standard of care, including informing patients of all health care options and transferring them to other facilities if certain services are unavailable at their current sites. She added that relationships with other organizations allow the UC system to expand its capacity and care for more patients.

Holmes said the UC administration appreciates the delegation’s input and has been modifying the agreements.

“The University acknowledges that the language used in some of its contracts with other health care organizations may not accurately reflect our values and expectations when our personnel are providing care in non-UC facilities,” Holmes said in the email.

The letter will be shared with incoming UC president Michael Drake when he begins his term.

Lori Cappello Dangberg, vice president of the Alliance of Catholic Health Care, said in an email that her organization understands the concerns raised about these affiliations, but thinks some are based on inaccurate claims.

“We recognize, respect, and support the unique and specialized health needs of LGBTQ patients and we are disappointed by claims that suggest otherwise,” Dangberg said in the email. “Our Catholic hospitals expect all clinicians practicing at our facilities to provide services in accordance with their professional judgment and the needs and wishes of their patients.”

Dangberg added that relationships between Catholic health care providers and organizations such as UC Health are at the core of California’s public health care “safety net,” which is especially important to sustain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UC regents will provide an update about the proposal by the end of the year, but no vote has been scheduled as of press time.

Contact Catherine Hsu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @catherinehsuDC.