By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Critics of the proposed sale of two non-Catholic area hospitals to a Roman Catholic hospital system said Tuesday that the transfer would be a “monolithic abomination” to the state’s health care system.
Frances Koncilja, a usually subdued attorney who is challenging the sale of two Exempla Healthcare hospitals to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, said the sale would restrict patients’ rights by denying medical services deemed unethical by the Catholic church. She spoke Tuesday before the City Club of Denver with a spark to her speech.
“For the last two years, Dean (Heizer) and I have been battling this monolithic abomination that is going on,” said a candid Koncilja, who spoke only feet away from James P. Tatten, lobbyist for the sale and former Director of State Advocacy for Catholic Health Initiatives.
The transfer agreement to purchase Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette calls for eliminating controversial patient services, including abortions, tubal ligation and vasectomies. With Lutheran Medical being the only general hospital in Jefferson County, controversy has mounted.
The long litigious battle over money, medicine and ethics has been going on for years.
The original deal called for the Community First Foundation to receive $311 million from the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth and for sponsorship to be transferred. In 2007, Republican Attorney General John Suthers issued an opinion that gave the go-ahead for the sale. But an arbitrator earlier this year blocked the deal, ruling that assets stemming from the sale belong to the community — not to the hospitals’ non-profit co-sponsors.
During that time, Exempla itself filed a lawsuit against the Sisters of Charity, Community First and Suthers to stop the transfer.
Another deal was later struck this year in which sole sponsorship was promised, but no money would change hands. Critics say details of the latest deal have not been released and they object to the lack of transparency.
The lawsuit filed by Koncilja and Heizer argues that Community First entered into an illegal agreement because it diverts the two hospitals from their original purpose of providing non-sectarian health care.
Questions were also raised by opponents Tuesday as to where $50 million of the $311 million went that was promised for community services. In a follow-up interview with the Denver Daily News following the event Tuesday, Tatten could not answer the question.
“We don’t know. That’s one of the challenges with this kind of issue,” said Tatten. “Ya know, you’re talking about some really high level moral, theological and health care issues, and then trying to allow that at an operational level from a health care perspective. So, I don’t know.”
Of great concern to opponents is the implementation of ethical and religious directives for the Catholic hospital system. There are dozens of directives that limit medical services provided by doctors at hospitals within the system.
One of the directives goes as far as to require an attempt to baptize newly born at-risk infants.
“Newly born infants in danger of death, including those miscarried, should be baptized if this is possible,” states the directive. “In case of emergency, if a priest or a deacon is not available, anyone can validly baptize.”
Critics were dealt a blow last month when Suthers issued an opinion that the state does not need to hold hearings on the agreement. Suthers’ opinion came even as a new state law requires such public hearings over hospital mergers that affect the community’s best interest.
Meanwhile, Koncilja Tuesday cited a list of both Republicans and Democrats she believes let the community down by not fighting for greater transparency. At the top of the list was Suthers. Also on the list was Denver publicist Jean Galloway, spokeswoman for Community First Foundation, who was in attendance Tuesday as Koncilja read her name off the hit list.
Koncilja and her supporters believe the issue hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, arguing that if it was anything but a Catholic hospital system requiring directives, more eyebrows would be raised.“I would submit that if a mosque had purchased an interest in this hospital and said that women, if they wanted to get treated, had to have burqas on before they were allowed to be registered as patients, we would all be outraged,” she said.
Tatten did little to defend the Catholic hospital system, instead arguing that the greater issue is national health reform. But after the event, he told the Denver Daily that perhaps more could have been done in the area of transparency, such as holding voluntary public hearings. That being said, Tatten said the sale has been so complicated that public hearings likely wouldn’t have been helpful.
“Often times with public hearings people feel that if they participate and they share their view, that someone will consider it and they have an impact on an outcome,” he said. “But, I think in this type of situation, it was so structured and so legalistic.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters