31 October 2019 | Today the Attorney General of California refused to approve a proposed merger of Roseville, California-based Adventist Health and Catholic-owned St. Joseph Health System. Xavier Becerra said that the merger had the potential to drive up the cost of healthcare as well as limiting access and availability of healthcare services.
If approved, the merger would have involved a portion of the hospitals owned by the respective systems in Northern California. They would have formed a group called the ST Network. According to Modern Healthcare, the hospitals involved would have included Queen of the Valley Medical Center, Redwood Memorial Hospital, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, St. Joseph Hospital-Eureka, Petaluma Valley Hospital, Adventist Health Clearlake Hospital, Adventist Health St. Helena, Adventist Health Ukiah Valley, Adventist Health Howard Memorial, and St. Helena Hospital.
The systems had tried to convince their religious bases that the merger would not change their respective missions or allow the other to break its religious practices. They claimed that the merger would allow each system to retain management and control over its own facilities and that access to healthcare would be boosted in Northern California. The systems also hoped to better compete with rival system Kaiser Permanente.
Consumer Advocacy groups had argued that the merger would limit services such as tubal ligations, contraception, gender transition care and physician aid-in-dying that are not allowed by the Catholic system. Adventist Health allows contraception, sterilization and in vitro fertilization, but does not provide gender transition surgery or allow physician-facilitated aid in dying.
According to Modern Healthcare, The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California supported the decision to deny the merger:
“This is a strong statement by the attorney general that healthcare should be available and accessible to patients,” said Phyllida Burlingame, the organization’s reproductive justice and gender equity director. “More than one in six hospital beds in California are already in hospitals like those in the St. Joseph network that deny patients needed reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care based on doctrine established by Catholic bishops. Californians, particularly those in the rural areas where these hospitals are primarily located, need more access to these essential healthcare services, not less. This decision helps move our state in a positive direction.”