Foes right to question GBMC-St. Joseph merger Taking exception


THE JUNE 25 article by the chairman of the board of St. Joseph Medical Center that appeared on this page trivializes the very real concerns that the Women's Law Center of Maryland and others expressed about plans to merge St. Joseph and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson.

Primarily, we take exception to St. Joseph's claim that the opponents of the merger were responsible for "misinformation" and "emotion-laden misunderstandings."

Cause for concern

In fact, many people became alarmed after learning of GBMC's March 11 announcement that it would have to discontinue performing abortions if it merged with St. Joseph. In May, further clouding the picture, GBMC officials said that they had revised the terms of their potential deal with St. Joseph to allow abortions to continue on the GBMC campus.

However, that accommodation did not address all of the instances where needs for reproductive services arise in hospitals. For example, the church directives that govern Roman Catholic hospitals do not permit doctors or staff to discuss birth control, including sterilization, or abortion with patients, let alone perform such services. What about the pregnant cancer patient whose chances of survival would be heightened by an abortion?

Also, we expressed concern about the rights of patients who receive services from departments that would be consolidated. When representatives of the Women's Law Center met with Robert Kowal, the president of GBMC, he acknowledged that, under a merger, consolidation of departments was likely to occur to improve services and cut costs. Yet, he could not assure us such consolidated departments would not be located in St. Joseph's -- thus subject to church directives.

Also, many people were concerned that Catholic doctrine would prevent families and doctors from making some "end of life" decisions, such as when to end life support for a person with little chance of living without it.

At an April 30 public forum to discuss the proposed merger, 100 concerned citizens attended, but there were no representatives from GMBC or St. Joseph who could have clarified any "misinformation" or "misunderstandings." The continuing failure to address these issues has only heightened public concern.

Marguerite Angelari is legal director of the Women's Law Center of Maryland Inc. and a founding member of the Maryland Merger Monitor, a coalition that monitors hospital mergers.

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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