Health systems CHI Franciscan and Seattle-based Virginia Mason have merged into Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, officials with CHI Franciscan’s parent company, CommonSpirit Health, announced Tuesday.

The two signed a memorandum of understanding in July to explore combining Tacoma-based CHI Franciscan, a Catholic health system, and Virginia Mason through a joint operating company. Tuesday’s announcement makes that merger official.

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health will operate 11 hospitals and nearly 300 sites of care, including primary and specialty care clinics and same-day surgery centers.

The new health system will be led by the systems’ two current leaders, Ketul J. Patel, CEO of CHI Franciscan and president of the Pacific Northwest Division at CommonSpirit Health, and Gary Kaplan, chairperson and CEO of Virginia Mason.

“Virginia Mason Franciscan Health has an incredibly strong foundation to build upon as our two storied organizations come together with an exciting vision, particularly as we expand services for the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Patel.

“We are committed to building a consumer-focused health care system while expanding our presence as a national leader in the transformation of
health care delivery.”

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The merger came after the two networks partnered in obstetrics and women’s health and radiation oncology, according to the July announcement.

Virginia Mason said it will remain a non-Catholic organization but announced a few changes.

“Nearly all procedures historically conducted at Virginia Mason will continue to be provided, with the exception of direct elective pregnancy terminations and Virginia Mason’s participation in physician-assisted death,” a spokesperson for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health said in an email.

The spokesperson said Virginia Mason in the past had performed a very limited number of abortions and did not participate in physician-assisted death at its hospital.

“These services will continue to be accessible for our communities in the settings they are already typically delivered, which are outpatient treatment centers outside of the Virginia Mason system,” said the spokesperson.

The merger had been opposed by reproductive-rights activists and the ACLU of Washington, which, along with 11 other organizations, warned in a July 21 letter that the merger could jeopardize access to some needed services, including abortion, contraceptives, end-of-life care and LGBTQ services.

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The issue has come up in Washington before. Swedish Medical Center merged with Providence Health & Services in 2012 and stopped providing abortions at the hospital. Bellingham and other Washington cities saw similar service cessations following Catholic takeovers of secular hospitals.

One in six U.S. hospital beds are in Catholic facilities. The figure is 41% in Washington, according to a new report on religious-based hospital systems to be released in September by MergerWatch.

This story contains information from Seattle Times archives and Kaiser Health News.