More than meets the eye in Highline Health System affiliation

On Friday, June 21, patients in the Highline Health System received a letter informing us that all of the Highline clinics in the region will be renamed.

That includes clinics in Burien, Des Moines, Tukwila, Roxbury, West Seattle and Vashon Island.

Our clinics’ new names, coming soon, will be Franciscan Medical Clinics.

What’s in a name? Does this sound secular? Secular as defined by the American College Dictionary, “not pertaining to or connected to religion.” Yet Highline CEO Mark Benedum assured Vashon residents at a meeting in April that Highline would remain secular.

What will it mean, then, when we go to the Franciscan Medical Clinic?

It will mean that it is a faith-based facility in which personnel have signed contracts requiring that they conform to the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD) of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

At the same meeting in April, the Franciscan representative, when asked if the doctors would have to sign these directives as part of their contracts, she replied simply, “Yes.”

Directive #5: “Catholic health care services must adopt these Directives as policy, require adherence to them within the institution as a condition for medical privileges and employment and provide appropriate instruction regarding the Directives for administration, medical and nursing staff, and other personnel.”

What do the Ethical and Religious Directives prohibit? Reproductive contraception, sterilization and certain end-of-life directives that may be desired or requested by patients, including Death with Dignity.

Highline leadership claims that because the hospital does not currently offer abortion services, FHS requirement that the service be banned is irrelevant. However, the affiliation agreement does not adequately define what abortion means. Does it mean no abortion even in the case of ectopic pregnancy, for example?

What about the health care of the LBGT community and will their marriages or partnerships be honored in a health crisis?

Under the ERDs, we have no way of knowing whether we will be getting the full range of services and recommendations from our doctors.

I write to the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot because Kitsap County’s Harrison Medical Center is about to become “affiliated” with Franciscan Health Services.

I write in the hope that folks ask these important questions before the deal is done. We didn’t ask these questions soon enough. Write the Governor asking him to place a moratorium on all future religious/secular mergers until the church/state issues have been resolved.

Katharine Hunter



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