UW Medicine has inked its affiliation with PeaceHealth, making the public-hospital system the primary referral for patients needing complex care beyond what PeaceHealth can provide.
While the not-for-profit, Catholic health-care system will send its patients to taxpayer-funded UW Medicine facilities for tertiary and quaternary care, the two won’t share ownership or policies, officials said Friday.
Tertiary and quaternary care are categories of more complex treatment beyond what most physicians and clinics offer — skin-cell transfer or treatment of pelvic fractures requiring difficult surgery, for example.
The new deal will “allow both organizations to work together to continue to improve the quality, safety and cost effectiveness of care,” a joint news release said.
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PeaceHealth is based in Clark County and founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. The organization has nine hospitals and physician groups in Alaska, Washington and Oregon, as well as a Medicaid health plan called Columbia United Providers.
Opponents of the deal worry that the affiliation could lead PeaceHealth to influence UW Medicine services such as abortion, birth control, sterilization and end-of-life treatment.
Such services are banned in church-based health care by the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.
Other similar affiliations between religious and public systems have evolved into wholesale purchases of hospitals by the Catholic systems.
UW Medicine officials were adamant that won’t be the case with the PeaceHealth deal.
“It does not involve any governance change or any change in the services we provide,” said Dr. Paul Ramsey, chief executive officer of UW Medicine. “It provides for enhanced access for services.”
PeaceHealth has a mission to improve the health of the communities, Ramsey said, and the deal aligns with UW Medicine’s goal of providing increased access to high-quality care.
Alan Yordy, president and chief mission officer for PeaceHealth, said in the statement that his organization has “enjoyed a longstanding relationship with UW Medicine,” and is “pleased to develop this collaboration for our Northwest Network patients.”
UW Medicine trains some of its doctors in PeaceHealth facilities to give them experience working in more rural areas of the state. That won’t change under the deal.
The deal also doesn’t lock PeaceHealth patients into going to UW Medicine hospitals for complex care if they want to go elsewhere; it just makes UW the first referral.
No estimate was available for how many new patients UW Medicine will take on under the agreement, which began Friday. That number is expected to increase from year to year, Ramsey said, as the affiliation expands the number of patients UW Medicine serves.
The state’s American Civil Liberties Union remains wary of the agreement.
“Our concern continues to be to ensure that patients have access to the full range of lawful health care services when secular and religious health care organizations affiliate,” said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the group, in an emailed statement. “Until we see the actual terms of the agreement with UW, we are not assured that this collaboration won’t result in limits on patient choices on the basis of religion.”
CatholicWatch, a website that advocates against the Church’s involvement in health care, cited an ACLU statistic that says by the end of this year nearly half of Washington’s acute-care hospital beds will be subject to “the bishops’ ‘moral authority.’ ”
But Ramsey again promised that this won’t happen at UW Medicine.
He said the deal will expand, not restrict, patients’ access to health services.
“The bottom line for us is we want to improve quality and care for all patients,” Ramsey said.
Information from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.
Colin Campbell: 206-464-2033 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @cmcampbell6