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Santa Maria public hearing on Dignity Health/CHI merger

Public impact hearings were held on the Central Coast and across the state Friday on the proposed merger of health care systems Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives.

San Francisco-based Dignity Health operates hospitals and clinics across the state and on the Central Coast including Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande Community Hospital and St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard.

Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) operates 101 hospitals in 18 states.

The impact hearings were held to allow representatives of the California State Attorney General’s Office, which by state law must approve the merger, to gather community input on the combining of the two nonprofit health systems.

“We do not expect any jobs to be reduced in our California service areas as a result of this alignment”, said Marian Regional Medical Center President and CEO Sue Andersen at the impact hearing held in Santa Maria Friday afternoon, “all collective bargaining agreements will remain in place regardless of whether an employee is at a Catholic or an other-than-Catholic hospital and we have made this commitment to both our union partners as well as the Attorney General’s Office.”

Members of the California Nurses Association, the union that represents about 100,000 registered nurses, voiced concern the Dignity Health/CHI merger will eventually lead to hospital closures, loss of jobs and patient services.

“We want guarantees that our pension will remain intact and fully funded”, said Joe Domingos, RN at Marian Regional Medical Center, “most importantly we want a mandate from the Attorney General’s Office that all of these hospitals will remain open with no cuts in services for no less than 15 years.”

Nurses union members are also concerned about cuts in charity care for low-income and uninsured patients and other patient care after the merger.

“We have concerns about Catholic Church directives on services for women’s reproductive health, the LGBTQ community, for folks making end of life decisions”, Domingos said, “as just a few of these areas that might be affected by these Church directives.”

Marian Regional Medical Center CEO Sue Andersen stressed there will be not cuts in patient services or patient care by the Dignity Health/CHI merger.

“There will be no consolidation, our two systems do not operate in any of the same states so we won’t be combining any of our facilities”, Andersen said, “I want to be crystal clear, there will be no reduction to any service currently provided at any Catholic or other-than-Catholic hospital, which is made clear in the Attorney General’s Independent Health Impact Report, that includes women’s health services.”

“No hospitals will change religious affiliation”, Andersen said, “both Dignity Health and CHI have many non-Catholic partners that our part of our system, that will absolutely not change.”

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