Merger would end abortions at GBMC Talks with St. Joseph at serious stage

some fear change in policy

March 11, 1998|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Greater Baltimore Medical Center would discontinue performing abortions, but maintain all other services if it joins with nearby St. Joseph Medical Center, the chairman of GBMC's board said yesterday.

"The ability to retain a full array of women's services is an essential part of GBMC's mission, and we've tried to preserve that" in talking with St. Joseph, said Benjamin R. Civiletti.

Specifically, he added, tubal ligations and in-vitro fertilization -- procedures not performed at St. Joseph -- would be "unaffected" at GBMC.

Still, the potential for change at GBMC troubles some in the community. "It would be a step backward -- constraining access," said Pat Gongloff, interim executive director of Planned Parenthood of Maryland.

The concerns come at a time when a number of hospitals in Maryland have joined with Catholic institutions, with some deals resulting in policy changes for the non-Catholic partner and some not. For example, Memorial Hospital in Cumberland, which merged with Sacred Heart Hospital to form Western Maryland Health System, still does abortions if needed to save the life of the mother, according to Kathy A. Rogers, director of community relations for the system.

A potential GBMC deal has attracted attention because of the hospital's strong reputation for women's services.

Talks between St. Joseph and GBMC, neighbors in Towson, have reached a serious stage. Civiletti said before making a final decision on whether to proceed, the board of the non-sectarian GBMC planned further internal discussions and more meetings with representatives of St. Joseph and its parent organization, Catholic Health Initiatives. Based in Denver, CHI has 69 hospitals in 22 states.

Sharon Sopp, public relations coordinator for St. Joseph, said, "We are waiting to hear from GBMC, and we are expecting to hear in early April." Beyond that, she said, the hospital would not comment on the negotiations.

Civiletti said GBMC had talked to some potential non-sectarian partners, but was considering a deal with St. Joseph because "the strength of the two institutions together is so overwhelming in the North Baltimore medical services market that there would no longer be any risk to GBMC's future."

He said, however, "You can't expect to have a strong affiliation with a Catholic institution and still perform abortions."

Civiletti said abortions are "a very tiny part" of the hospital's service, and "it would be unfair to say a combination with St. Joseph would have a substantial adverse effect on women's services."

Gongloff said she had heard through anecdotes that the hospital performs 600 to 800 abortions a year. Civiletti and other hospital officials said they do not know what the figure is.

"We believe the mission will be in jeopardy if a merger between GBMC and St. Joseph seriously curtails the availability of certain women's services, and patients at GBMC no longer have the freedom to choose the services they desire," Cynthia L. H. Crawley, president of the board of the Hospital for the Women of Maryland, wrote in a letter to GBMC board members

The Hospital for the Women of Maryland and the Presbyterian Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital merged to form GBMC in 1965. The women's hospital board continues as a charity and gives about $500,000 a year to GBMC.

Crawley said yesterday that if GBMC no longer offers abortions, women would have to receive them in a less secure and private setting. "When a woman turns up the drive at GBMC, she could be having an abortion, or she could be having her ears pierced," she said.

And, she said, assurances about services such as in vitro fertilization left her "deeply concerned" over whether such facilities would be maintained indefinitely in the future, and whether GBMC, if it were associated with St. Joseph, would add new technologies in areas such as fertility.

Fred Caesar, director of public affairs for the St. Louis-based Catholic Health Association, said Catholic hospitals follow a document called "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services."

For example, Directive 53 says, "Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution when its sole immediate effect is to prevent conception."

However, Caesar said, the extent to which a non-Catholic partner follows the directives depends on the nature of the partnership.

"Is there an exchange of assets? Is it a partnership for a particular service? Who is the owner? There's no cookie-cutter formula."

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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