On Sept. 17, Save Our Services on Long Island held a public forum at Plainedge Library to inform the community about changes in their health care that they believe will come about when Mid-Island Hospital in Bethpage and Massapequa General in Seaford become sponsored by Catholic Health Services of Long Island and Winthrop-South Nassau University Health System.
The two community hospitals have sought sponsorship after facing years of severe financial trouble. This sponsorship will save both hospitals from having to close. Save Our Services, and the organizations that have joined with them are opposing this sponsorship because the hospitals will no longer allow a number of services such as abortions and tubal ligations because of Catholic Health directives. Save Our Services is a coalition which is opposed to the acquisition of nonsectarian hospitals by religious groups because of the loss of such services. According to Dr. Michael Greenblatt, medical director and chief operating officer for Mid-Island Hospital, these hospitals could not stay open without this sponsorship.
Barbara Reed, a member of Save Our Service on Long Island Steering Committee who served as the moderator for the forum, stated in her introduction that this sponsorship has the potential to affect rape and trauma counseling and treatment, counseling for AIDS and HIV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases, and threatens to jeopardize end of life services such as health care proxies and living wills. In an interview following the forum Greenblatt said that this statement was completely unfounded. He said that all counseling services are done in a doctor's office and would not be affected by this merger. According to Greenblatt, "If the patient did have questions while in the hospital, it is between the patient and her physician and the physician is free to do the same counseling before or after the acquisition." In regard to end of life services he added, "The Catholic directives include the use of health care proxies in their literature and what they have told us is that they are more liberal than New York State law. If the family wanted withdrawal from machines it is okay with them. No one is going to kill the patient but they are not against allowing the patient to die with dignity."
Two services that will be terminated when this sponsorship takes effect are abortions and tubal ligations. One of the speakers at the forum, Lois Uttley, director of public affairs for the New York State Department of Health said that it doesn't have to be this way. She told those present that secular hospitals need to build a wall around themselves that protects its Catholic partner from being involved in these procedures. This was what Save Our Services referred to as creative solutions. Around the country, according to Save Our Services, hospitals are dealing with these situations. One possibility that was mentioned at the forum was that there be a section of the hospital that Catholic Health Service had nothing to do with where theses procedures could be performed. Mid-Island Hospital performed over 100 abortions and nearly 200 tubal ligations last year. Massapequa General has no maternity ward and would not be affected as much. According to Greenblatt these creative solutions were broached early on and were denied. Large amounts of money are being poured into the hospitals by Catholic Health Services which gives them a right to deny these procedures.
Other speakers at the forum included Dr. Richard Hausknecht, who is a founding member of the board of directors of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, and Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of New York City. Hausknecht spoke out against the church imposing their views on the public. He claimed that had these hospitals not been private organizations this might be considered in violation of the separation of church and state.
Rabbi Barnett Brickner, president of the Interfaith Clergy Council of Massapequa, who serves on the Ethics Committee of Massapequa General Hospital said that he understood that the hospitals were just trying to survive. He said that his concern was that religious freedom be preserved. He stated that he was at the forum to support the efforts of Save Our Services and to stand with the people who were at the forum because he too is a member of the community and he wants to ensure that everyone get the best health care they can. He closed by pleading with hospital administration to hear what was being said at the forum. According to a representative from the hospitals, no one from the hospital was invited to the forum.
One issue that was raised by many people at the forum was what would happen in an emergency situation. At the forum, several speakers mentioned situations in other communities where these procedures, in emergency situations, were denied in Catholic hospitals and where the patient's life was in danger because they had to travel many miles to go to a hospital that would perform these procedures. Greenblatt responded that this was not really an issue in this instance because North Shore Plainview Hospital is only three miles away from Mid-Island and a patient could easily be transferred there.
Greenblatt said he believes this sponsorship will be extremely helpful for the community. If the hospitals were to fail then all services, not just these few, would be lost, as well as several hundred jobs. Large amounts of money have already been put into the hospital by their sponsors, even though the sponsorship will not go up for review until late fall or early winter. Both Mid-Island and Massapequa General were in run-down conditions and this infusion of money has already made a difference. According to Greenblatt all of the rooms in one of their units, which were in very bad shape, have been renovated in the last two months. He said the doctors, staff, and patients all love them now, whereas before there were patients who would not go to the hospital for fear of being admitted to one of these rooms. There will also be new programs and equipment introduced to the hospital in the coming months. According to Greenblatt, "All this is just the start of things to come."
The forum ended with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions of Save Our Services members and panel members. Many audience members raised possible solutions to problems that were brought up in the forum, while others had specific questions about issues mentioned by the panel. One woman stood and said that she had never heard so much Catholic bashing in her life as she had at this meeting. While this brought tension to the forum, for the most part it was a good opportunity for many members of the community to learn how the sponsorship of their community hospitals would affect their health care services.