By Nancy Steiger
We made history in San Juan County on Nov. 26, 2012. That’s the day the new PeaceHealth 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.
We have new diagnostic and imaging tools that haven’t been available on-island before. And we are able to provide all this — expanded services in a brand new facility — with no increase in taxes. These “firsts” are cause to celebrate, and many people in the community have expressed 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 provided at Inter Island Medical Center previously, are not usually hospital-based, and typically wouldn’t be found in a facility the size of Peace Island Medical Center 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.
The proposed joint venture with Catholic Health Initiatives will have no bearing on our policies regarding reproductive services. None.
PeaceHealth’s reproductive services policies will remain unchanged under the partnership with CHI. 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 at IIMC remains available, and no changes in services are planned. Our policies regarding reproductive services 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 No.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, fulfilling our mission of personal and community health, relieving pain and suffering and treating each person in a loving and caring way.
My career in health care began as a nurse, and my heart has never strayed from the patients we serve. For the past 25 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 were invited by the commissioners to build 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 have come to accept that nothing I say will change their minds. I’d suggest that our track record speaks for itself.
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.
— Editor’s note: Nancy Steiger, a registered nurse, is CEO, chief mission officer of PeaceHealth Northwest Network of Care.