Louisville Forum Hosts Hospital Merger, Questions Persist

by Devin Katayama on December 14, 2011

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Click here to documents released from merger officials to Jefferson County attorney.

Tensions rose Wednesday afternoon between healthcare professionals and officials with the pending hospital merger who participated in a debate hosted by Louisville Forum.

It was three on three at Vincenzo’s in downtown Louisville. Merger officials said the deal’s opponents have made up some of their arguments because they lack access to the facts. At times the audience scoffed at merger officials who reiterated merger is a matter of business and economic development and not meant to impose Catholic health directives on U of L Hospital.

That did not please the opposition, which used what information it’s gathered over the past few months to argue that those directives may still seep through.

“Who do we believe? Do we believe you? Do we believe the documents? Do we believe the Bishop? The Bishop today can be another Bishop tomorrow. We have different answers for different audiences,” said merger critic and panel member Dr. Kenneth Zegart.

Making assumptions about the merger isn’t fair, said David Laird president and CEO of Jewish/St. Mary’s Health System.

“There’s an assumption that you’re correct and you’re making up arguments. That’s the whole point. Until you know don’t guess what the answer is,” he said.

That’s part of the argument for opposition.

“How can we win that argument…the argument that we have our facts wrong when they haven’t released any of the facts?” said critic Dr. Peter Hasselbacher.

Merger officials said that U of L Hospital and Jewish/St. Mary’s Health System will remain separate entities from Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), but how much remains uncertain.

There are 72 Ethical and Religious Directives followed by Catholic Health Initiatives, most of which both hospital systems would agree to follow, said Dan Varga, chief medical officer for CHI.

Regardless, answers to several contentious questions lie in the merger agreement, which officials refuse to release until the merger is approved.

“Once you understand the documents you will see that it is a merger. But at the same time I have to tell you we have documents and we have negotiated and we have agreed, neither Jewish Hospital will become a Catholic Hospital, nor will the University Hospital,” said Laird.

But without seeing details of the merger it’s difficult to believe that all Catholic healthcare directives won’t be imposed on University Hospital staff, said Zegart.

“Again we have smoke and mirrors evasive answers. We have not seen the documents, they say they’re in the documents why haven’t those documents come forward before now. Why at the last hour do they say well they’re in the documents?” he said.

Gov. Steve Beshear told WFPL that no timeline has been set for deciding whether to approve the merger.

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