Students and workers protest expansion of UC and Dignity Health partnership outside of UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay Conference Center. Photo by Maria Cordova

Of the 150 people who lined up outside UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay Conference Center on May 15, only 38 were able to share minute-long public comments with the regents. 

This group of impassioned students, faculty, staff and community members was different than past groups of public commenters. Regent Chair George Kieffer said it was a record number of commenters discussing one issue — UCSF’s potential expansion of its partnership with Dignity Health.

“We’re extremely troubled by the fact that the UC would consider restricting patient care based on religious ideology,” said Joshua Stickney, digital communications manager for Equality California. “To do so would be inconsistent with UC values.”

Opponents of the partnership protested outside, holding signs reading, “All Care Everywhere,” and “My Body is Not a Battleground,” while chanting “My body, my choice!”

UCSF has partnered with Dignity Health since 2017. In late 2018, UC Regents Health Services Committee announced plans to expand the partnership. Despite Kieffer’s opening remark reminding attendees the regents would not decide on the Dignity Health matter in this round of meetings, public commenters were not deterred from sharing their opinions.

As a Catholic corporation, Dignity Health must adhere to policies issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), or the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs), such as the prohibition of all birth control methods, abortion and gender-reaffirming procedures. 

This is in direct contradiction with UCSF’s commitment to unbiased, comprehensive care. According to UCSF, they work to appreciate and celebrate differences in others, creating an environment of equity and inclusion with opportunities for everyone to reach their potential.

Despite this inconsistency, UCSF psychiatry chair Dr. Matthew State expressed great support for the partnership expansion with Dignity Health during public comment. State cited a critical shortage of providers willing to care for individuals with mental illnesses in the Bay Area. He said the partnership would allow for an increase in the number of beds for patients with mental illnesses, allowing proper care.

State’s comments did not address the controversial ERDs Dignity Health abides by. However, he did highlight the expansion of the Alliance Health Project — a program UCSF runs that focuses on LGBTQIA+ mental health issues.

Not all UCSF staff resonated with State’s sentiment. 

“I’ve done all of my medical training here at UCSF and the core values of the [UC] were instilled upon me,” said UCSF gynecologist Vanessa Jacoby during public comment. “They are to provide my patients care based on the best available scientific evidence, free of vice and discrimination.”

Jacoby went on to say the expansion of the partnership with Dignity Health would prevent her from staying true to those ideals. 

Public commenters who refused to support the expansion went on to share personal stories.

Evan Minton, a UC Riverside alumnus, shared his story as a survivor of Dignity Health discrimination. A Dignity Health hospital denied Minton an extremely time sensitive hysterectomy procedure because he is transgender. He was forced to scramble to find a doctor willing to do the procedure. 

“Transgender students will get lost in the system,” Minton said. “Dignity Health discriminates against them, just as I faced, resulting in devastating consequences. Please take the health, safety and dignity of all your students into consideration when making this decision and reject this dangerous partnership.”

Ultimately, the decision is left to the regents and will likely be made at the July regents meeting also at UCSF’s Mission Bay Conference Center. 

Until then, activists on both sides promised to keep pushing for their desired outcome. 

“The model at Catholic hospitals is completely misaligned with [the UC] approach,” Dr. Vanessa Jacoby said. “[Catholic hospitals] prohibit and restrict care based on religious doctrine. A UC that does that is not the [UC] I was trained in. It is not the [UC] that I’m proud to work in. And it’s certainly not the [UC] that the people of California believe in.”