New Department of Health Action on Religious Hospital Mergers Doesn't Go Far Enough to Protect Patient Access

News Release: 
Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Certificate of Need review requirements are a step forward in holding merging hospitals accountable, but more changes are needed.

[Washington] — On Monday, December 23rd, the Washington State Department of Health filed a state code rule revision that will subject all hospitals that are being taken over by another hospital to the DOH’s Certificate of Need review process and require hospitals to reveal their policies on issues such as reproductive and end-of-life care. While this step will increase transparency around hospital mergers, more action is needed to ensure that patients have access to key medical services without religiously based restrictions.

“We are pleased with this initial step forward to improve transparency, but it’s clear that far more comprehensive solutions are needed to protect all Washingtonians’ access to care,” said Jennifer Allen, Director of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. “We call on the Governor and the state of Washington to ensure that publicly funded hospitals provide access to a full range of care.”

The new rules come in response to concerns around a record number of mergers between secular and religious healthcare systems in Washington. Soon half of all hospital beds in the state could be owned or controlled by Catholic-affiliated health care systems, compromising patients’ access to services that Catholic-affiliated hospitals do not allow, including comprehensive reproductive healthcare, end-of-life care for the elderly and terminally ill, and compassionate care for LGBT families. Without an accountability mechanism or regulations on hospital restrictions on services, the new rule changes do not ensure that patients will maintain access to the care they need.

"Significant changes are necessary to make sure that religious restrictions do not limit patients' access to health care,” said Leah Rutman, ACLU of Washington Policy Counsel.  "A comprehensive review and revision of state health regulatory programs is needed. The State of Washington has a responsibility to ensure access to best care medical services for all its residents."

“We appreciate the work that the Governor and the Department of Health have done, but the new disclosure regulations do not go far enough to protect patient access,” said Rachel Berkson, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. “If we want to address potential gaps in access to care, we need to look for some more solutions.”


Ensuring that the public is aware of religious restrictions in hospitals is not effective on its own. To fill the potential gap in access, the Department of Health must publicize which hospitals are constrained and specify what their restrictions are, and provide practical, appropriate alternatives for patients who need access.


Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest (PPVNW) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization educating Alaskans, Idahoans, Washingtonians and policy-makers about reproductive health issues. PPVNW lobbies and educates to advance Planned Parenthood's mission and also engages in limited electoral activities.

The ACLU of Washington is a nonprofit membership organization that works to defend and extend civil liberties and civil rights for all people in Washington.

Compassion & Choices of Washington (C&C of WA) advocates for patient-centered end-of-life care and expanded choice at the end of life. C&C of WA stewards, protects and upholds Washington's Death With Dignity Act.

NARAL Pro-Choice Washington is the leading grassroots pro-choice advocacy organization in Washington State. NARAL Pro-Choice Washington works to protect every woman’s right to access the full range of reproductive health options, including preventing unintended pregnancy, bearing healthy children, and choosing legal abortion. NARAL Pro-Choice Washington is the state affiliate of NARAL Pro Choice America