The University of Missouri Hospital’s governing committee has voted to scrap the type of privileges that were granted to a St. Louis doctor, that played a role in the resumption of abortions at the Columbia Planned Parenthood facility.
The state senator heading a committee investigating Planned Parenthood says that change would cause that facility to lose its license that allows abortions to be performed there. Planned Parenthood says it is “outraged” at the change.
Planned Parenthood issued a statement Thursday evening saying MU Health Care has decided to discontinue “refer and follow” privileges. MU Health Care confirmed the change in a statement of its own a short time later. Those were the privileges granted to Doctor Colleen P. McNicholas, the doctor who in August resumed the performing of medicinally induced abortions at Columbia.
Under state law, abortion providers are considered ambulatory surgical centers. Doctors at such clinics must have privileges to perform surgery at a nearby hospital or a written agreement with a hospital to take patients for emergency services.
The state Health Department’s Director, Gail Vasterling, testified to the Senate Committee on the Sanctity of Life that since the Columbia facility was only performing chemically induced abortions and not surgical, the “refer and follow” privileges were sufficient to meet the requirements for that license.
The committee’s chairman, Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), disagreed with that assertion, but says now that those privileges are being eliminated he believes Planned Parenthood in Columbia will have to stop doing abortions.
“When I had the Department of Health and Senior Services there … and I specifically asked the person that’s in charge of the ambulatory surgery center licensing process, ‘If these privileges did not exist, would this license be able to continue?’ and his answer was, ‘Absolutely not. We’d have to pull the license,'” Schaefer told Missourinet. “So I look forward to that being the next step in this process.”
MU Health Care said the discontinuation followed a review of health care policies and procedures, and was the result of a unanimous vote. The change will be effective December 1.
It says the review was prompted by inquiries from various members of the state legislature and public of MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who testified to Schaefer’s committee last month that he would look into the privileges and how they had been awarded.
McNicholas is one of two medical providers with “refer and follow” privileges at MU Health Care.
In its statement, MU Health Care’s chief medical officer Steve Whitt said those privileges, “only allow physicians to access their own patients’ information. This level of access to patient information is already permitted by any referring provider, including those not on MU Health Care’s medical staff; therefore, the designation of refer and follow privileges was outdated and unnecessary.”
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President Laura McQuade accuses MU Health Care of caving to political pressure from Schaefer and his committee.
“This is a continuation of the orchestrated attempt to restrict access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri and to the critical services Planned Parenthood has provided for nearly 100 years,” wrote McQuade.
“We condemn MU Health Care for abusing public trust denying the community access to the health care they deserve,” she continued. “MU Health Care’s decision puts politics above patients and is also a violation of longstanding federal law that prohibits discrimination in the extension of staff or other hospital privileges based on opposition to abortion.”
Planned Parenthood said it will take “any and all legal action necessary” to continue services including abortions in Missouri. It said the assertion that “refer and follow” privileges are “outdated and unnecessary” is false.
“These privileges are increasingly used in hospitals across the country to allow physicians who seldom or never need to admit patients to a hospital the ability to maintain staff privileges. Referring physicians can then follow their patients’ progress if ever needed, but the attending physician at the hospital provides the necessary patient care,” said McQuade.
Schaefer and other Republicans, including Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis) say “refer and follow” is “bogus.” Onder, a physician, said he had never heard of “refer and follow” privileges.
McQuade told Missourinet in July the ability to perform abortions in Columbia is, “incredibly important for the women of Missouri,” because there is only one other provider in Missouri, and that’s in St. Louis.