By Tamara McFarland
I would like to thank the community members who gathered Saturday at the Bayshore Mall to support reproductive freedom and hand out free contraceptives. This took place during St. Joseph Hospital’s annual health fair, from which Planned Parenthood has been barred from attending for the past eight years.
We must continue to fight for universal health care including full reproductive care, and oppose further consolidation of corporate power in our local healthcare system. Humboldt County is suffering under a virtual monopoly on health care services, which only benefits insurance companies and corporate shareholders.
St. Joseph Health Medical Group (SJHMG) now owns and imposes its religious beliefs on almost every clinic and doctor’s office in the region aside from those run by Open Door and Planned Parenthood. SJHMG recently bought Eureka Family Practice and Eureka OB/GYN, and immediately removed almost all contraceptive services from their menu. SJHMG also acquired Eureka Urology Associates last year, at which time that provider stopped providing vasectomies. Let that sink in for a minute — one of the area’s main OB/GYN practices banned from providing any contraceptive services aside from the pill, and Humboldt County’s only urology practice banned from providing vasectomies.
Our options for comprehensive reproductive care are disappearing at an alarming rate. The primary focus of our health care system has morphed from patient care to corporate consolidation and privatization. This shift, coupled with the ever-expanding domination of a Catholic-affiliated conglomeration of clinics and doctor’s offices is creating a real crisis. If SJHMG-owned practices represented only a small segment of a much larger menu of medical providers in our area, there would be less cause for concern; however, in this rural community, they are becoming the only game in town, giving them the power to dictate the choices of a huge swath of our population based on their religious beliefs. This is a truly frightening and deeply un-American phenomenon.
Another factor compounding this dilemma is the fact that SJHMG wields a great deal of financial control over our local nonprofits (which, ironically, are being relied on more and more heavily as our societal safety nets are weakened). SJHMG contributes significant sums to many local charities — a commendable act on one hand — but on the other hand, also a disconcertingly effective muzzle on the voices of the local residents perhaps most likely to raise the alarm about problems like these. Many smart and well regarded individuals employed by important local nonprofits feel unable to speak freely about this issue without risking their own personal livelihoods and/or the financial solvency of the nonprofits where they work.
Our current system is rotten to its core and on the brink of collapse. We are dealing with the fallout now of granting corporations the same rights as people and prioritizing money over lives and health. The endless drive to maximize profits and cut costs — motivations that lie at the very heart of capitalism itself — have resulted in a badly broken system that leaves a huge portion of our population with their basic human needs unmet.
Human beings created this system, and it’s time to dismantle it and build something new. We can and must do better — for ourselves, our neighbors, and our children. We need a system that is compassionate and cooperative, and puts people and planet over profit and religious ideology.
Tamara McFarland is a resident of Eureka and co-founder of Cooperation Humboldt (cooperationhumboldt.org).