Elissa Serapio, an OBGYN at UCSF, speaks against a proposed partnership with Dignity Health at the University of California Board of Regents meeting at UCSF’s Robertson Hall on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Doctors, patients challenge UCSF partnership with Catholic hospitals

UC Regents expected to vote on expansion of contract in June

A proposed expansion of a UCSF partnership with a Catholic healthcare provider drew protests Wednesday over fears that some patients could be turned away or denied medical care due to religious restrictions.

UCSF Medical Center already partners with three Dignity Health hospitals, St. Mary’s, St. Francis and Sequoia, and is seeking access to services at a fourth, Dominican in Santa Cruz. The University of California Board of Regents is expected to vote on the expansion in June.

Officials defended the proposal as a way to expand care to more patients at a University of California Board of Regents meeting Wednesday in San Francisco, saying it would provide access to badly needed treatment beds and ensure that more patients are cared for.

“It’s an expansion of an existing relationship we already have with Dignity Health that will better allow us to provide services to a broader swath of the population. It isn’t a merger and it doesn’t in any way change governance of UCSF,” said Dr. Dana Gossett, an obstetrician-gynecologist who is involved in the ongoing negotiations with the Catholic hospitals.

Shelby Decosta, chief strategy officer for UCSF, said that the medical center is “in a situation today where we are at capacity and turning away significant numbers of patients” who need UCSF’s care. She said that the medical center turned away 855 patients last year, citing a lack of beds and other resources.

“We need much more deliberate and expansive services in San Francisco,” said Decosta. “Dignity Health has not just the beds but the commitment to help us develop programs alongside our physicians.”

However, more than 1,500 UCSF faculty and staff have signed a petition calling on UC to reject the partnership entirely, and dozens of members of the UCSF community spoke out against it at Wednesday’s meeting.

Many criticized the Catholic hospitals for being guided by religious directives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and expressed fears that patients would be turned away or would not be informed about all of their care options, including abortion and “death with dignity.”

Prohibitions at Dignity include abortion and gender-affirming care for transgender patients.

Dr. Vanessa Jacoby, a UCSF obstetrician gynecologist, said the model of care at the Catholic hospitals is “completely misaligned with the approach I was taught at UCSF” which is to “provide patients with care based on best available scientific evidence.”

“Their care is prohibited and restricted based on religious doctrine which discriminates against [Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer] people and harms women,” said Jacoby. “That is not the UC that I am proud to work at.”

Evan Minton, a transgender man who is currenlty suing Dignity Health, alleges that he was denied a critical hysterectomy on the grounds of his identity.

“When my doctor told me that Dignity Health cancelled my surgery because of who I am, I was distraught, hopeless and terrified,” said Minton. “I contended with and fought for my identify for so long. For this hospital to cancel my important healthcare based solely on who I am is painful beyond comprehension.”

Responding to concerns that UCSF physicians working at Dignity hospitals would have to follow religious directives, Decosta said every physician is required to apply for privileges that include “the recognition that at some hospitals the physicians have to comply with the ethical and religious directives.”

“They don’t sign the directives themselves, they don’t endorse them, but what they’ll do is they’ll provide care consistent with those directives,” said Decosta. “It doesn’t restrict them in any way from referring patients or prescribing medication. In fact, at UCSF we often have cases where we don’t provide services and we have to refer patients elsewhere.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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