April 12, 2011 — A group of nearly 30 Sierra Vista, Ariz., residents and patient advocates on Saturday celebrated the recent termination of a trial merger of the Sierra Vista Regional Health Center and the Catholic-based Carondelet Health Network, the Sierra Vista Herald reports (Curtis, Sierra Vista Herald, 4/9).
The hospital had announced a trial affiliation with the Catholic health network in April 2010 and entered into an agreement with the network that could have led to a permanent merger, which would have required Vista to abide by Catholic's ethical and religious directives. SVRHC President and CEO Margaret Hepburn said the directives were one reason the hospital called off the merger. "We couldn't make that work," Hepburn said, adding that the hospital was unable to obtain approval from the local bishop to allow it to continue to provide sterilization and reproductive health services. Hepburn added that other business issues also derailed the merger (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/30).
Patient advocacy groups Cochise Citizens for Patients' Rights and the MergerWatch Project, which worked to prevent the merger, gathered at the rally to celebrate the decision. The MergerWatch Project works with local patient advocacy groups to protect patients' rights in medical decision-making, noting that medical care that is restricted by religious doctrine can threaten patients' rights and access to care. The group is working to prevent hospital mergers in more than 90 communities across the country. Lois Uttley, director of the MergerWatch Project, said that when Hepburn called off the merger, many residents and local activists felt proud of their impact on the hospital's decision and she noted that the local victory has inspired advocates across the country. She said, "It's really easy to feel dispirited, like an ordinary person's voice can't possibly be heard, that nobody can make a difference. When you come to a place like Sierra Vista, you find out, wow, people really can make a difference."
Judith Ingram, a member of Cochise Citizens for Patients' Rights, said the group's education committee played an important role providing information to the hospital staff and board in making the decision to end the merger with Carondelet. In congratulating the Cochise Citizens for Patients' Rights, Sheila Reynertson, advocacy coordinator for MergerWatch, said, "You made this community open their eyes and see that losing local control and losing vital services is not acceptable to the people of Sierra Vista and all the small communities around Sierra Vista that depend on this hospital for care." Uttley said it is possible that the hospital will consider another affiliation or merger in the future, but said she hopes executives will consult the public early in the process (Sierra Vista Herald, 4/9).