St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira has filed a lawsuit to block the recommendation by a state commission that the hospital begin affiliation talks with Elmira’s Arnot Ogden Medical Center rather than pursue its proposed affiliation with Guthrie Healthcare System of Sayre, Pa. The planned affiliation with Guthrie was announced last month.
In the lawsuit, which is scheduled to be heard in state Supreme Court in Ithaca Dec.19, St. Joseph’s contends that the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century, tasked by Gov. George Pataki and the state Legislature with streamlining New York’s health-care system, violated the state’s Open Meetings Law by making its recommendations and conducting its business and deliberations in nonpublic and closed-door sessions.
If the Legislature fails to reject the commission’s report by Dec. 31, all of its recommendations will become law automatically.
Sister of St. Joseph Marie Castagnaro, St. Joseph’s president and CEO, told the state’s Senate Committee on Health Dec. 1 that the recommendations were a shock.
“St. Joseph’s and Guthrie have been very public about their efforts to affiliate,” she said. “The commission, on the other hand, has been operating in secret, and at no time was the commission’s recommendation discussed with St. Joseph’s.”
The hospital had intended to finalize its agreement with Guthrie and seek approval of the plan from the state health department by the end of January. Instead, the commission’s report recommended that the commissioner of health refrain approving such plans until talks between St. Joseph’s and Arnot Ogden are completed. If one of the hospitals refuses to take part in affiliation talks in good faith, the report further recommended, the health commissioner should close that hospital and expand the other to accommodate the increased patient volume.
Arnot Ogden officials said they are eager to move forward with talks.
“We feel this recommendation provides the potential for an excellent solution for health care in Elmira,” said a statement from Jan Updegraff, chair of Arnot Ogden’s board of managers.
The report noted that the two hospitals engaged in affiliation talks 15 years ago, and said religious issues between Arnot Ogden and St. Joseph’s had been resolved during those proceedings — a claim Sister Castagnaro disputes.
Under the Guthrie affiliation — which Sister Castagnaro said received approval from Bishop Matthew H. Clark — St. Joseph’s is to remain a Catholic hospital. Catholic hospitals are required to follow religious and ethical directives set forth by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop, including a directive against performing abortions.