Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

Louisville skyline. (Photo: Carl Van Rooy)

I arrived at La Guardia Airport on time to board the 8:30 a.m. US Air flight to Louisville for a busy day of meetings with people who are concerned about the proposed merger of the city’s University Hospital with the Catholic Health Initiative (CHI). This was no ordinary visit. I had important reasons to come home to understand the issues behind the extraordinary forces now proposing a merger which would deprive women, especially women in under served areas of Louisville, access to basic reproductive care. As most know, CHI policies are controlled by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

I arrived in time to change clothes, spritz with some perfume and head into dinner, 10 minutes before the dynamic Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville joined the group to listen to the concerns of the men and women at a beautifully appointed dinner table, to listen to smart conversation about issues that really mattered to these extraordinary guests who supported the importance and availability of women’s reproductive health issues.The mayor had been deeply concerned, he told me, about the competing interests of decreased employment versus a decline in medical services for women based on whether the merger went through. The financial frailty of University Hospital and Jewish Hospital was apparently the attraction for this interest by CHI to acquire and integrate these hospitals in their large hospital chain. Catholic Hospital Initiative promised that it had $700 million to invest, with $200 million in funds set aside for immediate upgrade of these acquired hospitals.

University of Louisville Hospital.

He was also aware of the concerns of an influential and vocal group of people at that table, who understood the seriousness of what had become known in the community as separate but equal solutions for women. The University of Louisville had offered no specific resolution to the problem at this point, but indicated that all of these issues would somehow be worked out. Since the hospitals would be under the control of the Catholic Health Initiative, they would not be allowed to handle normal reproductive issues: special off-site facilities would be required. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz wrote in a full-page ad in the Courier-Journal, Louisville’s daily paper, that Roman Catholic doctrine would dictate all reproductive choices for women in the new combined hospital consortium. Translated: no contraception, no tubal ligations, no family planning, no emergency contraception unless the woman can document that she has been raped. The Catholic Health Initiative says it will continue to provide high quality care to the population, apparently just no care for the most vulnerable of society, teenagers and women who need protection from pregnancy and need information, education and support about all aspects of sexual health: sexually transmitted disease prevention, empowerment to say no and to insist on condom use.

The mayor listened and promised more transparency (this negotiation has been going on for some time in private) and promised that unless the Health Department of Louisville was convinced that an appropriate alternative to care outside the University Hospital was available for reproductive health services and geographically accessible, the merger would be less likely to go through.

However, the rumor as I left the city was that as soon as the next elections are over that this deal will go through and a religious organization will rule what was once a public institution. Let us pray (if I may), that this will not be the case.

I have now left Louisville headed north toward the hurricane that is certain to cause much destruction. I think about natural disaster and the potential disaster that I have discovered here in the city where I attended medical school and learned how to care for women in these very same hospital clinics now threatened. Troubled waters and high winds are certainly all around.

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  • Laura Sillerman September 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

    You have given us a call to action with this piece, Dr. Pat. It is inspiring that you put exhaustive effort and thought into issues that many of us only wring our hands over.

    If “Do No Harm” are the watchwords of medical care, how can this possibly happen?

    Reply
  • idrar yoları enfeksiyonu September 5, 2011 at 3:32 am

    Dear Dr. Pat, It is absolutely appalling that this behavior can exist today. IMHO, it is a not so subtle war on women. Unfortunately I myself, feel absolutely helpless to be a combatant. But perhaps we as women should get out the pitchforks! Religion should not dictate medical policy. What’s next…stoning of women for any perceived “violations”. Perhaps there’s some legal issue that can be explored to stop this Catholic Initiative, although there seems to be pots of money for any defense. Good for you for going, and exposing this. Tanks…..

    Reply
  • hillsmom August 29, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Dear Dr. Pat, It is absolutely appalling that this behavior can exist today. IMHO, it is a not so subtle war on women. Unfortunately I myself, feel absolutely helpless to be a combatant. But perhaps we as women should get out the pitchforks! Religion should not dictate medical policy. What’s next…stoning of women for any perceived “violations”. Perhaps there’s some legal issue that can be explored to stop this Catholic Initiative, although there seems to be pots of money for any defense. Good for you for going, and exposing this. (So a lovely post-Irene day ruined.)

    Reply