“An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.” ~St. Thomas Aquinas
I was startled to read that the leadership of Saint Louise Regional Hospital is considering asking South County residents to support it with some sort of tax. I think this effort will fail for several reasons.
As the state cuts spending, local agencies are asking voters to replace state funding with various kinds of local taxes. Up and down California, voters will be asked to fund schools, libraries, roads, and more. What’s more, the cash-strapped state will ask voters to approve extensions of state tax increases.
How many of these taxes will voters approve? These are voters who, since 2008, have watched their home values plummet, their 401k values drop (many with the added insult of having a modest employer match of 401k contributions disappear), all while either being laid off or living with the chronic worry that a pink slip is just around the corner.
And those are just the general hurdles that any tax measure must overcome. A tax to benefit Saint Louise Regional Hospital faces additional significant challenges. Chief among them is this country’s critical separation of church and state.
I strongly support this protection that our forefathers wisely included in the Constitution, as should any conservative, constitutionalist, or patriot. (Save an email message: I know that the words “separation of church and state” don’t appear in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. The concept is clearly described in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Similarly, the words “eminent domain” don’t appear in these documents, but the concept is clearly described in the Fifth Amendment.)
Because I understand how important the separation of church and state is to, as President James Madison noted, keeping “from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries,” I, and many others, have grave concerns about a tax to support a religious organization.
I was recently told that I should put those concerns aside because a hospital is important to South County. That strikes me as the kind of “the end justifies the means” thinking that was vehemently condemned by my fundamentalist Christian K-12 teachers and pastors and that worried St. Thomas Aquinas.
A tax to support Saint Louise Regional Hospital also faces the hurdle of long memories, especially in Morgan Hill, about what many still view as the theft of their hospital.
When it became clear in the late 1990s that South County could not support two hospitals, Catholic Healthcare West, which operated Saint Louise Hospital in Morgan Hill, bought South Valley Regional Hospital in Gilroy, closed the Morgan Hill hospital, and renamed the Gilroy facility Saint Louise Regional Hospital.
Many people in Morgan Hill work in San Jose and other North County locations, so they simply obtained health care services from providers near their workplaces, rather than going out of their way to Gilroy to patronize a hospital that many viewed as a reminder of the insulting theft of their medical facility.
In a 2001 UC Berkeley School of Public Health report titled “California’s Closed Hospitals, 1995-2000,” the authors note that Catholic Healthcare West’s closure of Saint Louise Hospital in Morgan Hill and another hospital in Long Beach “were so hotly debated that the Attorney General launched an investigation of the CHW system.” It notes that the closure of the Morgan Hill hospital was one of the most vociferously opposed hospital closures in the period the report covers. I have a hard time believing that the people who worked so hard to prevent the closure of Saint Louise Hospital in Morgan Hill would support a tax to benefit a successor hospital in another community.
Many people in South County (I’ve heard estimates in the neighborhood of 33 percent) have medical insurance through Kaiser, meaning that they cannot use Saint Louise Regional Hospital for anything but legitimate emergencies. How likely are they to tax themselves for a hospital that they cannot use?
When you remember that Saint Louise Regional Hospital, as a Catholic facility, does not offer a full range of legal reproductive services, you’ve identified another reason that many people will vote no on such a tax.
Does South County need a hospital? Absolutely. Is a tax supporting a religious facility offering limited services, located in a less-than-ideal spot, with a history that causes understandable resentment among a large portion of the population the right way to ensure it? I have serious doubts about that.
“Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.