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On June 23, the University of California (UC) tightened their rules on affiliations with hospitals that impose religious restrictions on care. These restrictions include refusal to provide services such as abortions, sterilizations or transgender surgery. 

According to a released statement UC believes that “all people deserve access to comprehensive medical care as a fundamental right.”

Therefore, their newly adopted policy stipulates that UC-affiliated hospitals have until the end of December 2023 to comply with their updated inclusive rules or have their affiliation agreement canceled. 

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The updated rules are as follows: UC personnel at the sectarian hospital would be allowed to perform all prohibited medical procedures deemed necessary, such as a hysterectomy or delivery of an ectopic pregnancy. If a patient could not be safely transferred for the procedure, UC staff would be allowed to perform it at the hospital. 

The policy does not require the facility’s own staff to perform any religiously prohibited procedures.

Additionally, UC cannot enter into any new affiliations with health care providers unless they comply with the updated policy. 

UC has faced criticism for its affiliation with healthcare organizations that have adopted policy-based restrictions on care in the past. They claim that they are affiliated with policy-based hospitals in the first place because “hospitals with policy-based restrictions on care not required by federal law are often the only health care providers in the communities where they operate.” 

UC providers making medical decisions, such as advocating to have a patient transferred, or performing critical procedures which otherwise would not have been done by these facilities was argued as justification for the affiliation. 

Sen. Scott Wiener (D) from San Francisco, had proposed legislation that would require UC to end its contracts with religious health facilities unless the hospitals changed their policies or did not apply them to UC physicians and students working there. 

The UC Board of Regents went with the latter, less stringent option, opting to retain their contracts with 77 hospitals, rather than break all ties with Catholic care providers. The new resolution was approved with a 22-0 vote in the board’s June 23 meeting.

In an email, UC told Scriberr News that the board’s decision affirms UC’s “patient-centered approach to providing comprehensive medical care for all, fighting discrimination and furthering health equity.”

Regents Chair John Pérez said of the vote, “We should have greater ability to serve more patients, but in a way that is in compliance with the policy we adopt today. We’re against discrimination.”

Additionally, Sen. Weiner vocalized his support of the new resolution, saying,“It has the potential to significantly expand access to reproductive and gender-affirming care and to ensure UC physicians can exercise their own professional judgment in providing care.” 

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Although UC claims they pushed for “patient-centered solutions that eliminate discrimination, expand access to high-quality care and ensure personal health care decisions remain in the hands of patients and their physicians, based on evidence-based medicine and patient preferences,” some question the extent to which this mission was met.

As noted by UC, this was a complex, heavily-charged issue and there have been mixed results to their decision:

California’s largest hospital chain, Dignity Health, formerly Catholic Healthcare West, is one such facility that is the sole healthcare provider to certain communities. UC says that contracts with hospitals like Dignity Health allow its medical staff to provide care for 35,000 patients, many of them low-income Californians with little access to hospitals.

Scriberr News reached out to the facility for their perspective on UC’s new policy and how it would impact the hospital, but did not hear back by publication deadline.

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