Federal Regulations on Healthcare Refusal
The Southwest Women’s Law Center (SWLC) continues to lead efforts in New Mexico to ensure that patients have the right to make their own healthcare decisions without having their providers withhold or deny access to services based on the providers’ own personal beliefs. Late in 2008, the Bush Administration announced the creation of a new regulation that would allow healthcare workers to refuse to provide information and services to patients, particularly in the area of birth control and reproductive health. The regulation was truly a midnight-hour regulation; it went into effect just after midnight on the morning of President Obama’s inauguration.
The Obama Administration announced its intent to rescind the regulation. SWLC drafted formal comments for a broad coalition of New Mexico organizations to support the Obama Administration’s proposal to rescind the regulation and also requested support from New Mexico state officials. Cabinet Secretaries Pamela Hyde (New Mexico Human Services Department) and Dr. Alfredo Vigil (New Mexico Department of Health) submitted formal comments urging rescission of the rule. The SWLC will continue to monitor developments regarding this healthcare refusal regulation.
Important Links for Federal Healthcare Refusal Regulations
To review the April 2009 comments submitted by the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Human Services Department urging the rescission of the provider conscience regulation, click here.
To review the April 2009 sign-on letter sent on behalf of the SWLC and nearly 30 other organization to the U.S. Department of Human Services urging the rescission of the provider conscience regulation, click here.
To review the September 2008 public comments submitted by SWLC to the U.S. Department of Human Services on the provider conscience regulation, click here.
Religious Directives and Access to Healthcare in Santa Fe, NM
In late 2007, St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe announced a planned merger with CHRISTUS Health Systems. After persistent questioning by the Southwest Women’s Law Center (SWLC) and other advocates, hospital management acknowledged that the newly merged entity would follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), a religious and theological guide to healthcare services in providing health care services to all of its patients. This sparked widespread community concern around whether patients in Santa Fe would continue to have access to comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services; would be able to control their own end-of-life decisions; and whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer patients in Santa Fe would face discrimination or be denied services at facilities operated by the newly-merged entity. SWLC provided critical leadership in helping to form a coalition of organizations committed to ensuring that patients in Santa Fe continue to control their own health care decisions based on their own personal beliefs in consultation with their doctors.
In late spring, 2009, St. Vincent Hospital hit the news again when it circulated a draft contract to physicians employed by the hospital that would require each of them to agree to adhere to the religious directives. This had been a significant issue before the merger and State officials, at the urging of SWLC and the broad coalition, were able to obtain a commitment in writing from the leadership of both St. Vincent Hospital and CHRISTUS Health Systems that: “The clinical and medical staff of SVH will not be required to enter into agreements regarding the ERDs.”
SWLC Executive Director Jane Wishner made public statements criticizing CHRISTUS and St. Vincent for proposing such a provision and called on them to follow their prior written commitment to state officials and to the community. Within 36 hours of the publication of news stories, the hospital informed its employed physicians that the final contract would not include such language.
SWLC will continue to monitor the situation to help ensure that family planning, reproductive health services and patients’ ability to control their own end-of-life decision-making will not be infringed upon and that GLBTQ patients have continued access to care.