We knew this trend was occurring, but it’s becoming even worse in certain parts of the country.
According to a new analysis by Five Thirty Eight, the number of Catholic hospitals is growing, as is the number of communities that rely solely on a single Catholic facility.
That means no birth control, no vasectomies for men, no tubal ligations for women, no condoms, no medical procedures to prevent pregnancy, and definitely no abortions.
In a growing number of communities around the country, especially in rural areas, patients and physicians have access to just one hospital. And in more and more places, that hospital is Catholic. That sounds innocuous — a hospital is a hospital, after all. But Catholic hospitals are bound by a range of restrictions on care that are determined by religious authorities, with very little input from medical staff. Increasingly, where a patient lives can determine whether Catholic doctrine, and how the local bishop interprets that doctrine, will decide what kind of care she can get.
In 2011, the earliest year for which data was available, at least 29 communities only had a Catholic hospital to rely on for most of their care. By 2016, that number had grown to 45, according to MergerWatch, an organization that is opposed to health care providers operating under religious restrictions and tracks how religious doctrine has shaped the U.S. health care system. That’s 10 percent of the 459 hospitals that were classified as the sole hospitals in their community in 2016, according to the database referenced by MergerWatch.
This is a huge problem for anyone who lives in even semi-isolated communities since patients who need those banned procedures may not have any medical alternatives. There was a time when nuns ran most of these hospitals, and they would largely defer to medical staff on certain controversial issues, but that setup is rapidly fading away.
Now, the nuns’ role has faded and Catholic bishops preside over hospitals that tend to be part of massive health care networks, where part of their role is to hold the line against procedures the church has forbidden. And they often use a stricter interpretation of religious doctrine — with fewer exemptions for patients — than the nuns once did.
Amid those shifts, the number of hospitals following Catholic doctrine has grown all over the country, not just in rural areas. Best estimates suggest that one in six hospital beds and many of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems are Catholic-owned or -affiliated.
This trend should worry anyone who thinks people should get medical treatment based on medical need, as opposed to someone else’s religious beliefs.
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