SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A proposed partnership between UC San Francisco and a Catholic Church-affiliated health provider is generating a backlash among the LGBTQ community and supporters.
At a meeting of the University of California Board of Regents in San Francisco Wednesday, a record-147 people were signed up for public comment on the plan for a formal affiliation between UCSF and Dignity Health.
UCSF already has arrangements with three Bay Area Dignity hospitals - Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, and St. Francis Memorial and St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco. The planned partnership would expand the relationship and services provided, while adding a fourth hospital to the mix, Catholic Dominican in Santa Cruz.
The non-profit healthcare corporation, formerly known as Catholic Healthcare West, subscribes to ethical and religious directives from the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops which bar hospitals from providing procedures such as elective abortions, surgical contraception, or in vitro fertilization.
In addition, there is no Catholic recognition of transgender people and patients seeking gender-affirming care are also excluded from Dignity Health facilities.
"From transgender students and employees to those who may seek reproductive care like contraception, abortion care and HIV prevention medication, it would be unconscionable to limit their access to medically necessary, and in some cases, life-saving services," said Joshua Stickney, Digital Communications Manager with advocacy group Equality California.
Evan Minton, a transgender man, was among the people who spoke out against the proposed UCSF – Dignity Health partnership. Minton is suing Dignity after he says he was scheduled to have a hysterectomy at a Dignity Health hospital until his health care providers learned how he identified himself.
"And for this hospital to cancel my necessary and important health care based solely upon who I am is painful beyond any comprehension," said Minton. "Your transgender students will get lost in the system and wind up at a dignity health hospital resulting in harmful discrimination just like I did."
A second pending lawsuit against Dignity involves a patient who was denied a tubal ligation after a caesarean delivery of her third child in January 2016, a standard procedure during C-sections.
Dan Diaz was at the meeting as an advocate for end-of-life options. His wife Brittany Maynard took medication to end her life in Oregon in November 2014. He says he fears what a relationship with a Catholic hospital organization will mean for UCSF patients.
"My wife had to leave this state so that she would have this option," said Diaz. "It would be shocking if now in a state that has passed medical aid-in-dying, where a patient would not be able to have these conversations and pursue medical aid-in-dying here at UCSF."
Lyn Ames, a registered nurse at UCSF, spoke in favor of the collaboration.
"The ability to deliver care is complicated by the daily challenges around the need for more space, more beds, and more operating rooms."
Dignity Health says it already partners with UCSF Health on many services. Dignity Health Senior VP of Operations Todd Strumwasser said in a statement, "Dignity Health has a track record of providing high quality, evidence-based care. Our services are available to all people regardless of background, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation."
UCSF Assistant Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs Jennifer O'Brien said among the reasons for the proposed partnership was that UCSF had to turn away 855 patients last year seeking complex care for cancer, neurological issues and transplants. "UCSF Health physicians practicing at Dignity Health hospitals have full latitude and are expected to inform their patients of all medically appropriate options for care and to refer patients to other facilities, including UCSF, if the care they require is not offered at the Dignity location," said O'Brien in a statement. "Both Dignity Health and UCSF will be fully transparent with patients regarding those services that are and are not offered at which affiliated Dignity Health facilities."
UC Regents Chair George Kieffer was the only one allowed to publicly comment Wednesday and KPIX was unable to reach him for an interview. John Pérez will become the new chair on Thursday.
In March, the ACLU weighed in on the proposed partnership, saying, "The UCSF/Dignity Health partnership raises a host of questions about how the government can legally partner with an entity that explicitly restricts patient care on the basis of its religious beliefs."
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