The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois is voicing concerns over Heartland Health Clinics in Peoria. The group is launching an investigation citing that 2 of Heartland’s clinics limit birth control access for patients.
The ACLU started investigating Peoria’s Armstrong and Garden Street clinics in late 2015. Both of those buildings are on lease from OSF St. Francis Medical Center, a Catholic hospital, which does not believe in providing that type of contraceptive care.
“We’re here to serve the community and Heartland is open and accessible to everybody.” Vice President of Clinical Operations for Heartland Community Health Clinics, Marjorie Parent, said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois says that’s not so. In a release Tuesday, the ACLU says its investigation into the relationship between OSF and Heartland reveals that Heartland is required to comply with religious restrictions in order to uphold its lease with the catholic healthcare system, limiting access to birth control.
“Which is something we’re very concerned about particularly the harm that it could be having on patients, low income and minority women, in the Peoria community.” Staff Attorney with the Women and Reproductive Rights Project of the ACLU of Illinois, Jenna Prochaska, said.
Heartland confirms that patients who visit the Armstrong and Garden Street clinics aren’t able to get a birth control prescription, but access to contraceptive care is available at the East Bluff and Carver Clinics. The ACLU says that makes life more difficult for patients.
“We believe from our investigation that they’re only offering contraception care at one clinic on Thursday afternoons and for some women that’s just not practically possible to take a bus which could take up to an hour to get across town.” Prochaska explained.
However, the health clinic tells a different story.
“There are other clinics that we can refer those patients to and that’s accessible Monday through Friday and if it’s a transportation issue we’re very well equipped to give out bus tickets or give them a way to get there and meet their needs.” Parent said.
Still the ACLU says the federally funded clinic has an obligation to ensure access to help fulfill public health goals like lowering teen pregnancy rates.
“We don’t believe partnering with a healthcare provider that is going to pose harmful restrictions on the care that they provide to their patients is an effective way of achieving the ultimate goal.” Prochaska said.
“That’s what we’re here for is to better our community not to be a barrier or hinder our patients to any kind of services.” Parent said.
The ACLU says it is not pursuing legal action at this time, instead monitoring the situation and offering advice to Heartland.
Heartland is currently in negotiations on its Garden Street clinic lease.
OSF released the following statement on the ACLU’s concerns:
“OSF HealthCare and Heartland Community Health Clinic share a common goal in caring for all people in the communities we serve. Both our organizations focus on human dignity and providing access to care. The OSF-Heartland partnership began more than a decade ago when OSF transferred the Mother Frances Krasse Clinic on Garden St. to Heartland Clinic, laying the groundwork for an excellent working relationship. This allows us to collaborate to reach the medically underserved offering better care, increased training opportunities for physician residents, and quality health for the community. Heartland became a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in 2004. At OSF HealthCare-leased sites, contraceptives are not provided based on Catholic ethical norms when the lease was initiated. Two of Heartland’s clinics (Garden St. and E. Armstrong Ave.) lease OSF property. Heartland Clinic is not a Catholic institution, and as such, is free to give information and referrals to their clinics about services provided including contraception. Any information to the contrary is a misperception. OSF HealthCare looks forward to our continued partnership with Heartland Clinic in bringing accessible and compassionate care to the communities we serve.”