SCHENECTADY — Amy Sarah LaMena had an ectopic scare several years ago. As a Catholic she knew she would have to choose between saving her life and continuing to be there for her other two children and having an abortion or continuing the pregnancy and possibly dying at the Catholic hospital where she sought care.
“As a Catholic the idea of abortion hurt, but not as much as the fear of my two young sons losing their mother,” part of her comment stated. “While I mercifully did not have to face that choice that day, I have thought about it a lot since. Catholic hospitals are only allowed to end a pregnancy through an ‘indirect’ abortion, via a salpingectomy (removal of the Fallopian tube). Will women have to choose to sacrifice an organ, and possibly some future degree of fertility, to save their lives?”
LaMena was just one of over 175 people who attended and asked questions during a forum on the proposed merger of Ellis Medicine and St. Peter’s Health Partners Thursday presented by the Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access. St. Peter’s is a Catholic hospital. The coalition formed shortly after the hospitals announced plans to merge in October 2020, concerned about what services would be provided after the merger.
Schenectady County Legislature member Michelle Ostrelich, D-Niskayuna, said that she already knows Ellis is eliminating the dental clinic and residency plan; eliminating the visiting nurses services and transferring patients to new providers; outsourcing the emergency room department; and selling the Ellis McClellan campus.
Ellis spokesman Philip Schwartz after the forum said he had no information on the McClellan campus, but confirmed the other changes mentioned by Ostrelich. He said those changes are not related to the proposed merger.
During the forum community members heard from several speakers who shared personal experiences related to similar mergers of secular and religious hospitals, research they have done on hospital mergers and advice on moving forward.
Lois Utterly, the Women’s Health Program Director for Community Catalyst, a national consumer health advocacy organization, said the coalition should review a complete copy of the Certificate of Need document given to the state by the hospitals sooner rather than later. The state has to approve the certificate for the merger to happen. She also said people need to ask questions on how the merger would affect their access to healthcare, not just now but in the future as well.
“It’s really important to insist on full transparency of the terms of hospital mergers, particularly Catholic, non-Catholic ones,” Utterly said.
Other community members raised concerns about access to healthcare for LGBTQ members and sexual assault survivors. Some raised questions about access to contraception and other medical services like tubal ligations. Speaker Nikita Hardy, Affirmative Action Manager for Schenectady County and a doula, spoke of a woman who had become pregnant with her seventh child from her husband who had repeatedly raped her. Hardy said the woman was turned away from St. Peter’s hospital for termination of the pregnancy. Hardy said she went to Albany Medical Center for the care.
Hardy said not everyone has the ability to travel for care.
“If we put these barriers up, how is it that we expect people to receive the care that they need, it is inhumane,” she said.
Ostrelich said that hospital officials have indicated that they may wait until the COVID pandemic and its financial impact are over to go forward with merger negotiations.
“That could take up to a year,” she said.
Officials from both Ellis and St. Peter’s attended the forum, including the president and CEO of both hospitals. However, forum rules dictated that the hospital officials could attend the forum but would not speak on any topics or answer any questions.
On Thursday, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, D-Queens, and Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, also announced a bill on hospital transparency. If passed, the state Department of Health would collect data on policy-based exclusions from hospitals and post what hospitals didn’t provide certain services, according to a news release from Hinchey and Rozic. That document would be updated annually. The bill would also identify healthcare deserts.
“It’s well past time to strengthen information transparency in our healthcare system,” Hinchey said in the release. “All New Yorkers have the right to know what medical services are available at their local hospital. This is especially important now as we are seeing a wave of hospital consolidations and, therefore, the loss of services in communities across the state. Our legislation will ensure that New Yorkers have access to the information they need to make the most informed health decisions possible for themselves and their families. At the same time, this bill will allow us to identify key service gaps that are leaving entire regions of our state without access to proper types of care. This is a critical step towards greater health equity for all New Yorkers.”