On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health published its findings from an unannounced visit to UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital resulting from a formal complaint I submitted stating that the facility was breaking state licensure regulations by not allowing pro-life advocates to be present during board of directors meetings. Local and state pro-lifers have held rallies and prayer walks on the sidewalk outside Magee during scheduled meeting times since they were barred from direct participation.
Magee was cited for violating 28 Pa. Code 103.3, 10, iii, which requires hospital governance to hold at least one meeting per year in which members of the community can be in attendance. According to the hospital inspection report, “Based on a review of facility documents and staff interview (EMP), it was determined that the facility failed to provide an opportunity, at least annually, for the public to attend a meeting of the Governing Body.”
During the facility inspection, the surveyor was told by a hospital employee that members of the public were “not able to call in to the meetings, use Teams, or participate in person” for the annual 2021 and 2022 meetings. Instead, individuals who wished to take part were required to submit agenda items through email prior to each meeting that would supposedly be read and reviewed by the board.
Board Chairman William Pietragallo II refused on two separate occasions to directly answer my question about why members of the community were not allowed to view the remote meetings. His more recent response to my inquiry about board transparency deflected to a statement on abortion.
Question: “Can you provide clarity about why the board is not allowing this virtual meeting to be viewed by community members again this year? A generic response to the comments that I submitted to the board last year described the meeting as ‘open,’ but there was no public access to the virtual meeting. In addition, my request for a written record of the meeting was ignored.”
Response: “We have your ongoing correspondence. We respect and appreciate your deep and abiding commitment to the multiple issues relating to abortion. Please know that the UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, its Board of Directors, and its officers, serve the entire community in which there are alternative points of view. As such, our commitment is to fully comply with the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and to the highest medical ethical standards. The conduct of activities at the Magee-Womens Hospital are guided and directed by the law which we neither create nor rewrite. Some of us may share your opinions and others may not. But all of us must comply and abide by the law which is intended to set the standard of conduct for all of us. In so doing, we, as Directors and Executives of the Hospital, recognize that our physicians, nurses, technicians, and other staff must fulfill their medical and ethical obligations to the best of their ability in both caring for their patient and complying with the law. No one is required to do anything at Magee which either violates the law or their personal conscience. As such, we stand firmly behind the professional men and women who serve our patients and the community in general.”
Chairman Pietragallo disregarded multiple requests for a written record of the remote meetings. Requests were also sent to Leslie Davis, who serves as president and chief executive officer of the UPMC system and is a longstanding member of the hospital’s board. While she now oversees the health-care provider’s 40 hospitals, Davis previously served as president of Magee for 14 years.
The hospital’s board of directors meeting was last accessible to the public in 2019. Magee became a lightning rod for controversy the following year upon the publication of an immunology study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh in which fetal scalps were grafted onto mice and rats. Unborn babies aborted during the second trimester of pregnancy at Magee were indicated as the source of fetal tissue in the study. The hospital holds the distinction of providing more abortions than any other hospital in Pennsylvania and is the primary source of fetal tissue for Pitt researchers.
Magee encountered enhanced scrutiny in 2021 when Judicial Watch released the contents of a 2015 grant application from Pitt to the National Institutes of Health. The application discussed Pitt’s ability to minimize the time between the collection of fetal tissue and cooling the tissue for storage to “ensure the highest quality biological specimens,” leading to questions about whether the university was harvesting organs from babies born alive at the nearby hospital.
[READ: Here’s What We Know About Pitt’s Sadistic Experiments On Unborn Babies]
Prior to the state Department of Health’s investigation of the Magee board’s defiance, UPMC’s Office of Ethics, Compliance, and Audit Services was alerted to the private meetings in November 2022. The office initiated and closed the complaint in less than five hours, finding no fault on the part of the hospital. This failure to adequately investigate Magee’s board is a red flag in terms of how the office handles more serious compliance concerns.
For instance, the office declined to investigate my compliance report submitted in April 2021 regarding Dr. Beatrice Chen’s dual roles in conducting abortions at Magee and overseeing studies in Pitt’s Human Research Protection Office. Despite the report remaining open for five months, the office determined that UPMC had “no jurisdiction, role, or oversight responsibility for studies conducted by the university” upon closing the investigation.
While Pitt and UPMC leaders insist that they run separate organizations, there is significant overlap between the university and the medical center. For instance, UPMC’s vice president of ethics, Valerie Satkoske, serves on the faculty of Pitt’s Center for Bioethics and Health Law with professor Greer Donley, who is frequently sought out by major news outlets for her controversial opinions in favor of abortion.
Last summer, Donley and Chen signed a letter addressed to UPMC’s executive leadership team that urged the health-care system to publicly affirm the importance of abortion services following the Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade. The letter included the demand that the medical center commit to “no cooperation with law enforcement” without a court order if an abortionist were under threat of prosecution for illegal activity.
A full investigation into Magee’s role in Pitt’s fetal tissue research has yet to be completed. Pitt hired a law firm in September 2021 that published a report meant to exonerate the university but that instead declined to look into clinical decision-making at Magee related to the delivery of abortions. One of the three lawyers who was selected to probe the university was a Pitt graduate, leading critics to question the investigation’s independence.
Despite the report’s limited scope, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) accepted the results of the law firm’s investigation. NIH leaders also agreed to set up a meeting between then-Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak and Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher to discuss ways to deflect public outrage over the university’s research. Tabak has since been promoted to acting director of the NIH.
Following the state Department of Health citation, Magee leaders met on March 13 to create an acceptable plan of corrective action. Moving forward, the hospital has committed to holding the 2023 meeting “in person and/or via audio-video technology as applicable,” which they say will be “evidenced in the public board meeting minutes.”
Further corrective action may be imminent for the hospital. Pitt and Magee are undergoing an investigation by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that was initiated in response to a May 2022 letter from 89 members of Congress seeking answers about potential violations of federal law related to fetal organ harvesting and the altering of abortion procedures for the purpose of obtaining tissue.