College Should Terminate Contract With Harness Health

Let’s get a few facts straight regarding the outsourcing of Student Health to Harness Health. Harness is a division of Bon Secours Mercy Health, a Catholic healthcare network that follows the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives prohibit Catholic health care networks from providing a wide range of reproductive health services, including all birth control, abortion, and emergency contraceptives, except in cases of sexual assault, where emergency birth control may be used but abortions are still prohibited. Catholic health care providers have also faced multiple lawsuits alleging discrimination against LGBTQ patients (See Minton v. Dignity Health, Hammons v. UMMS).

While there are workarounds that allow providers working in Catholic health care systems to provide certain prohibited services, the accessibility of these services depends on how the parent organization follows the directives. Patients must contend with providers requiring them to go through numerous steps to receive essential services, as well as individual providers’ choices to work around the policies of the health care system. In short, the mission of Catholic health networks to follow Catholic moral directives makes reproductive, sexual, and gender-affirming care less accessible to patients. 

The solution that the College quickly put into place after it came to light that HHP would not provide reproductive health care is severely limited. Despite claims in an email from President Ambar that Family Planning Services of Lorain County would be on campus three days a week, with transportation provided on other days, FPSLC is only advertised as being on campus one day per week on the Student Health website. The details of the transportation system are not clear at all and should not be necessary in the first place. In the past, the services students might seek from FPSLC were available on campus, often at little to no cost. Clearly, reproductive care is now less accessible to students than before the College’s deliberate decision to partner with HHP. 

Student tuition dollars are being sent to a religiously restrictive health care provider that makes reproductive health care inaccessible to patients in Oberlin, in Ohio, and across the country. Not only that, but according to the Campus Digest sent out June 8, student health records were sent to, and are apparently still in the possession of, this potentially hostile health care provider.

There was a shocking series of administrative failures that led us to this point. When the College announced that Student Health would be provided by HHP, it failed to acknowledge that the provider’s parent company was Catholic, and the College did not make any statement regarding how that fact might affect the care provided at Oberlin. If the College had been deliberate in choosing HHP, it may have also been deliberate in keeping that important information from the Oberlin community.

According to President Carmen Twillie Ambar’s own statements, the administration held conversations with HHP before partnering with them. In these conversations, they discussed access to reproductive and gender-affirming care, leading to assurances from HHP that they would provide such services. Did the administration simply take this company at its word? Did the College get these “assurances” in writing, perhaps in the contract it signed with HHP? If not, I question not only the administration’s commitment to the well-being of the Oberlin student community but also its professional competence as a group of higher education administrators. The Oberlin community deserves to know the specifics of what was discussed and, if such services  were included in the contract, to know why HHP is still employed on campus after breaching that agreement. 

Ignorance is no excuse. The College’s administration is responsible for the well-being of nearly 3,000 students; it is its job to not let this happen. If not ignorance, then might naïveté be the answer? The picture that the administration is trying to paint is that, by no fault of their own, it was misled by HHP. However, HHP and BSMH are still providing student health care despite the administration’s dissatisfaction, and HHP still has our student health records. It appears as though the administration’s initial motivation was to save money and shed employees — that is what HHP plainly advertises and why an institution like Oberlin would partner with it. This is not new, but part of a trend during President Ambar’s term that has resulted in worse outcomes for Oberlin’s student body and in beloved members of the Oberlin community losing their jobs despite widespread disapproval and protest. At best, the College was grossly cavalier in doing its due diligence about the new health care providers as they pursued the cheaper option. At worst, it knowingly put the well-being of the student body in harm’s way in the name of its financial bottom line. 

Now the administration is trying to pass the blame off to others — expressing that it felt disappointed that BSMH and HHP were “no longer comfortable” with providing care that Catholic health care networks do not make accessible in the first place. We do not need disappointment or excuses. We need answers, and we need results. 

The College should release the contract it signed with HHP and the assurances it received regarding how HHP would provide reproductive and gender-affirming care on campus. The College should also end its partnership with BSMH and HHP, retrieve our student health records from these hostile organizations, and go back to employing its own health center staff.