How Catholic bishops are reshaping healthcare in rural America

Mar 2012
New Hampshire
In a growing number of communities around the country, especially in rural areas, patients and physicians have access to just one hospital. And in more and more places, that hospital is Catholic. That sounds innocuous — a hospital is a hospital, after all. But Catholic hospitals are bound by a range of restrictions on care that are determined by religious authorities, with very little input from medical staff. Increasingly, where a patient lives can determine whether Catholic doctrine, and how the local bishop interprets that doctrine, will decide what kind of care she can get.

In 2011, the earliest year for which data was available, at least 29 communities only had a Catholic hospital to rely on for most of their care. By 2016, that number had grown to 45, according to MergerWatch,1 an organization that is opposed to health care providers operating under religious restrictions and tracks how religious doctrine has shaped the U.S. health care system.

It’s difficult to know what services are and are not available at each of these facilities because interpretation of Catholic doctrine is done locally by individual bishops and decisions are often made on a case-by-case basis. But abortion, birth control, vasectomies, tubal ligations, some types of end-of-life care, emergency contraception and procedures related to gender transition can all be off-limits if your local hospital happens to be Catholic.

Amid those shifts, the number of hospitals following Catholic doctrine has grown all over the country, not just in rural areas. Best estimates suggest that one in six hospital beds and many of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems are Catholic-owned or -affiliated.
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The Man

Former Staff
Jul 2011
Rural Russia has similar situations, where horribly understaffed local hospitals and clinics are increasingly relying on the "Sisters of Mercy", a nun order of the Orthodox Church who have some (very limited) medical training and volunteer themselves to help the ill and injured

They were widespread before the Commie Revolution in 1917, ran the military hospitals and such. And the Church has rebuilt them in the post-Soviet era.

What they do is wonderful. But, the thing is, they are NOT actual, professional medical personnel. And, in many cases, they are often called upon to perform tasks they are NOT qualified to perform. I have even read of a sister with some nursing training doing emergency surgery in some village hospital out there!

Because actual professional nurses in Russia are referred to as medsestry (medical sisters; or brothers, for the few male ones lol), people often simply assume that the Sisters of Mercy are all professionally trained nurses as well, although it is far from always the case...

It's crazy...
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Council Hall
Sep 2014
I have worked for a Catholic hospital 20 years with the exception of 3 years at a Jewish hospital. We perform tubal ligations, vasectomies, prescribe BC, but we don't perform abortions but neither do the non-religious hospitals. Back when I first started, some of the doctors were Catholic and did not perform sterilization procedures but they have long retired and have been replaced by non catholic doctors who will do it. I really did not see it as a hospital policy, more of a personal preference by the doctors performing these procedures. Also, since we are a safety net hospital, medicaid and medicare makes up the most of our payer mix and we are required to perform these procedures. We will make referrals to a abortion clinic if the patient requests it. Today, our physicians are from all over the spectrum. We have a lot from the Middle East, a gay couple who are pediatricians, Asian, all representing different religions or are non-religious.
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