This is the response to the community from Nancy Steiger, CEO, Chief Mission Officer PeaceHealth Northwest Network of Care responded to the ACLU letter concerning the 50-year contract between Peace Health and San Juan County Hospital District #1.
We made history in San Juan County on Nov. 26, 2012. That’s the day the new Peace Island Medical Center opened its doors to the community.
For the first time, residents of San Juan County have a hospital of our own.
For the first time, we have a 24-hour emergency department.
For the first time, we have on-site chemotherapy for people with cancer.
And, we have new diagnostic and imaging tools that haven’t been available on-island before.
All these "firsts" are cause to celebrate, and many people in the community have expressed to us their appreciation and gratitude for having all these health services available close by.
It is surprising and disappointing, then, that so much attention has been focused on what we don’t offer rather than what we do. That PeaceHealth, which was established more than a century ago by Catholic nuns, declines to offer abortion services should come as no surprise to anyone. These services weren’t available on-island previously, are not often hospital-based, and typically wouldn’t be found in a facility the size of Peace Island in any case. But because this issue continues to be raised, I want to once again let you know what you can expect from PeaceHealth.
1. The proposed joint venture with Catholic Health Initiatives will have no bearing on our policies regarding reproductive services. None. PeaceHealth’s policies will remain unchanged under the partnership with CHI.
2. Decisions about reproductive services are made between the doctor and patient. Services that are medically necessary are provided within the sanctity of that relationship, with no interference from PeaceHealth. Medical necessity is determined by the physician. Every reproductive service that was available before Peace Island remains available. No changes in services are planned.
3. Our policies haven’t changed in 40 years, and no policy changes are planned.
The issues raised by the ACLU trace their origins back to our founding fathers. A tension between the rights of women religious, for example, and the government has long existed, and we aren’t going to resolve it with an op-ed, a letter-writing campaign or a contract. Critics have called into question the veracity of the legal opinion that allowed our partnership with the San Juan County Public Hospital District #1 to move forward.
These Constitutional issues are not new and we have been assured we are on solid legal ground. While legal experts sort through the arguments that are being raised, we will keep our attention focused on running our new hospital and clinic and serving patients. I want to acknowledge that our transition to a new facility hasn’t been perfect. We have had some glitches in service that aren’t acceptable. We have heard your concerns and we know we need to do better. We are working diligently to resolve these issues and are deeply grateful for your patience.
My career in health care began as an oncology nurse, and my heart has never strayed far from the patients we serve. For the past 30 years I have been in health care administration, the last five with PeaceHealth. I have never worked for a finer, more principled organization. One of our Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace likes to say that a promise made is a promise kept. We have built a new hospital for you and promised to provide you with comprehensive services at a time when few organizations or communities are investing in small, rural hospitals. If people choose not to believe us or the commitments we’ve made, I accept that nothing I say will change their minds. Only time will tell. I would like to leave you with one last thought: We have been serving the Pacific Northwest for over a century.
We’ve been invited into every community we serve, including San Juan County. It is a privilege to be in health care and to take care of you and your loved ones. Whatever your politics, your religion, your income or your health status, we are and always will be here for you.
Nancy Steiger CEO
Chief Mission Officer
PeaceHealth Northwest Network of Care