UVMMC investigating if more funds could be taken by Trump Administration


Mary Mclellan/Vermont Cynic

Pictured is the view of the Medical Center from Converse Lot. The Office for Civil Rights, a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education, released a Notice of Violation Aug. 28 stating that UVM Medical Center forced a health care worker to assist with an abortion against her will.

UVM Medical Center may lose more federal funding than originally expected after a nurse was forced to participate in an abortion procedure, a violation of federal law.

The Office for Civil Rights, a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education, released a Notice of Violation Aug. 28 stating that UVMMC forced a health care worker to assist with an abortion against her will.

UVMMC could lose federal funds if it does not change its policies within 30 days, according to the notice.

The named funds in the notice at stake amount to $1.6 million that goes to HIV/AIDS services through the Ryan White Grant, according to the notice.

UVMMC is also investigating if other money in addition to the $1.6 million is at jeopardy, according to a Sept. 6 email from Annie Mackin, a UVMMC spokesperson.

“We are reviewing whether this [the Ryan White Grant] is the correct source of funding to be concerned about, and also reviewing whether any other funds could be at stake,” the email stated.

A law known as the Church Amendments prohibits organizations that receive federal funding from discriminating against workers who do not want to take part in abortion procedures for moral reasons.

The nurse filed a complaint in May 2018, prompting an investigation into the matter. The complaint was about an abortion that took place in 2017.

UVMMC said they do not discriminate against any employees for exercising their rights to opt-out of procedures to which they object, according to an Aug. 28 statement.

“We believe our policy is correct and protects the patients who come to us for care and protects our employees’ ability to opt-out of procedures which they are uncomfortable with for ethical and religious reasons,” said Dr. Stephen M. Leffler, interim president of UVMMC.

“Today we are not changing our policy, but we are very willing to meet with the Office for Civil Rights to discuss that,” Leffler said.

“At this point, we see no impact to UVM from this action,” Leffler said when asked if the potential loss of funds would impact the University.

UVMMC has a partnership with the Larner College of Medicine and UVM’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences. They provide annual financial support to UVM for expenses including salaries, benefits, and facilities.

In the 2018 fiscal year, UVMMC provided approximately $60 million in financial support to UVM, according to a financial statement posted on their website.

Nursing major Riley Galgon, a junior, said she is concerned that if UVMMC loses funding, it could place a financial burden on nursing students, who work closely with UVMMC staff.

“We already pay a ton of money for tuition, on top of that having to pay for our scrubs and our stethoscopes and everything,” Galgon said. “To have even higher costs on top of the equipment would be really stressful and make some people unable to be in the nursing program.”

The notice came from OCR’s division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, created in January 2018.  The new division is part of an effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to address the priorities of religious conservatives, according to an Aug. 28 New York Times article.

Leffler expressed concern over a new rule issued by the administration in May, expanding the protections of health care workers to opt-out of certain procedures.

“One of the words that are most concerning [in the new rule] to the Medical Center is the word ‘tangential,’” Leffler said. “It says people can opt-out of the procedure or anything tangential to the procedure, and that is a very slippery slope.”

UVM does not expect to be impacted, according to a Sept. 5 email from UVM Spokesperson Enrique Corredera.