Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, on Dec. 14, asked Deerfield-based Walgreen Company to clarify policies surrounding a new partnership between the pharmacy giant and a Pacific Northwest health provider affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Walgreens recently announced a partnership between itself and Providence Health & Services, a not-for-profit Catholic health system based in Renton, Washington. Under the agreement, in-store clinics in Washington and Oregon would be staffed by personnel from Providence and Swedish Health Services, a health system with which Providence affiliates.
But the ACLU wants clarification on the terms of that partnership, especially with regards to how services, information and referrals are impacted by Catholic Church doctrine. Walgreens, for its part, maintains that its store policies will not change.
In their letter to Walgreens, ACLU officials wrote, "...Providence is a Catholic health care system that is required to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives ( "ERDs" ) promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives forbid or severely restrict critical reproductive and end-of- life health care services at Catholic health facilities, including contraception, abortions, fertility treatments, vasectomies, tubal ligations, aid in dying, and advance directives that are contrary to Catholic teachings. Some religious health systems also restrict the information and referrals that their health providers are allowed to give to patients. Adherence to the ERDs also increases the likelihood that LGBTQ individuals and their families will face discrimination in seeking to access health care services consistent with their medical needs.
"In our states, we have consistently seen that when secular entities join with religious health systems, the services, information, or referrals provided at the secular entity become limited by religious doctrine. ...As Providence is bound by the ERDs, we are concerned that the clinics will likewise be required to follow the ERDs, limiting access to important medical services, information, and referrals. Further, we are concerned, especially in light of the plan to form a Providence-Walgreens collaborative leadership governance council, that Walgreens' pharmacies' ability to fill prescriptions will be restricted by religious doctrine."
Besides ACLU affiliates in Washington and Oregon, the letter was co-signed by 17 other rights-organizations. Leah Rutman, ACLU-Washington's policy counsel, said, "We have been working with allies in Washington State and Oregon on this, and, when we heard about this partnership, we were concerned."
Among those concerns were that LGBT individuals would be discriminated against should they attempt to access medical services or obtain medications for HIV-treatments or hormone therapies, for example. Rutman added, "What we also sometimes see are limitations on comprehensive counseling."
Walgreens had not yet provided ACLU with a response as of press time, but company representatives told Windy City Times Dec. 18 that they planned to. In an email statement, representatives said, "Most of the ACLU's letter focuses on services that are not applicable to a retail healthcare clinic setting, regardless of the provider. We plan to clarify that in our response to ACLU.
"The more than 400 Healthcare Clinic locations that are managed by Walgreens do provide a range of contraceptive services, in addition to acute care, treatment of chronic and common illness and conditions, and other preventive health services.
"We have no plans to change any of our current policies in light of the Providence relationship.
Walgreens representatives also forwarded a response from Providence Health & Services, which added, "[Many] chronic issues are not within the scope of retail clinics and require more in depth, ongoing care provided by a primary or specialty provider.
"STD counseling and testing will be offered at Express Care, but ongoing treatment will be referred to a primary care provider. Discussions about end-of-life care, fertility and other complex issues are not appropriate for a retail clinic, and patients will be referred to the appropriate setting.
"Anyone visiting Express Care will be treated with the same respect, care and compassion, regardless of their age, race, color, creed, ethnicity, religion, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, veteran or military status, or any other basis prohibited by federal, state, or local law."