Representatives from Ashland Community Hospital and Dignity Health say there will be no changes to the services ACH offers its patients if an alliance is formed between the two organizations.

Representatives from Ashland Community Hospital and Dignity Health say there will be no changes to the services ACH offers its patients if an alliance is formed between the two organizations.

The two nonprofits are set to begin exclusive partnership negotiations within the next two weeks, said Mark Marchetti, ACH chief executive officer.

Most of what the two will be discussing during the 90-day negotiation period is confidential, said representatives from Dignity Health and ACH.

Marchetti said the negotiations will include how much power a board of directors in Ashland would retain if ACH forms an alliance with Dignity, which has its own board of directors at its headquarters in San Francisco.

All of the 40 hospitals and 150 care centers that are part of Dignity Health are subject to regulations handed down by its board of directors.

Marchetti said he would not comment on what a new board of directors might look like in Ashland.

"That's all still being negotiated," he said.

Marchetti said Ashland Community Hospital will retain its name and continue to collaborate with hospitals in Medford if a partnership is formed with Dignity, and that ACH will remain a non-Catholic health care institution.

Dignity Health was formerly known as Catholic Health Care West until Jan. 23, when it changed its name and its affiliation with the Catholic Church. Since the change, the hospital system is no longer a sponsored ministry of the church, but a self-governing, nonprofit health care system.

However, 25 of Dignity's 40 hospitals remain Catholic-affiliated and are required to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directive for Catholic Health Care Services. Because of that affiliation, Dignity's non-Catholic hospitals are still barred from performing direct abortions, in vitro fertilization, or physician-assisted suicide, but follow a less stringent set of protocols by Dignity Health's Statement of Common Values.

With Dignity Health's change in affiliation came a more independent board of directors at the organization. Only two of the board's nine members are sisters of religious orders. Before the change, Catholic Health Care West operated fully under the discrimination of the Catholic Church and layers of internal, Catholic-influenced management branches.

"Typically there have been no changes to the services provided by the hospitals that join our system," said Tricia Griffin, a public information officer with Dignity. "As a values-based organization, we are committed to providing integrated patient and family-centered care to all who come to us."

Unlike the Catholic-affiliated hospitals within the system, Dignity Health's non-Catholic hospitals can administer reproductive sterilization services to patients, and can perform abortions when a pregnant woman's life is endangered.

"If a woman's life is in danger, we will perform the procedure," Griffin said, referring to Dignity's non-Catholic institutions' policy on abortions.

Currently ACH doesn't perform direct abortions, in vitro fertilization or physician-assisted suicide, said Marchetti.

In the past, ACH has performed abortions, he said, but "not in a long time, because to a large extent they are not hospital procedures."

Currently ACH allows abortion providers in Ashland to bring their patients to the hospital if something goes wrong during the procedure.

"Certainly, we would do anything in a lifesaving circumstance," he said.

None of the services ACH currently provides to its patients will be compromised if an agreement is reached with Dignity, he said.

Unlike Dignity Health's Catholic hospitals, its non-Catholic institutions allow surrogacy, and surrogate decision makers for patients. They also will not prolong life against a patient's wishes.

"There is no obligation to begin or continue treatment, even life-sustaining treatment, if from the patient's perspective it is an excessive burden or offers no reasonable hope of benefit," according to its Statement of Common Values.

Because the City Council will have a hand in approving whatever lease arrangement emerges out of an alliance, representatives from ACH met with council members after deciding to negotiate with Dignity in order to keep them up-to-date on the process and in the discussion.

The meeting was confidential, and council members Carol Voisin and Russ Silbiger would not comment on its intricacies.

"What I can say is that I'm comfortable with the decision, and I have very non-religious views when it comes to things like this," said Silbiger, who is the City Council liaison to ACH.

Silbiger sat through all of the ACH board meetings and executive sessions surrounding the partnership-seeking process, and also was able to watch each of the formal presentations delivered to ACH's board of directors by potential partners. "My concerns are the city's and community's, and I am comfortable with the decision," Silbiger said.

Silbiger said representatives from ACH continually solicited his opinion during the partner-seeking process, though Silbiger was not allowed to vote for which partnership ACH should pursue.

The other organizations that presented proposals to partner with ACH are Asante Health System, which runs Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford; Providence Health & Services of Seattle, which operates Providence Medford Medical Center; and Capella Healthcare of Franklin, Tenn.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email