Southern Arizona's Carondelet Health Network is about to join forces with Sierra Vista Regional Health Center.

The two health-care providers will execute an "integrative network agreement" April 17, which will allow them to share resources, officials from both say.

The agreement is going forward despite a letter from some physicians asking for a state review and a public hearing on the issue.

The agreement is not the same thing as a merger, emphasized Lisa Contreras, a media relations consultant for Carondelet Health Network. The two entities will retain separate administrative and governance structures, she said. Also, the agreement is set for a two-year period unless it's terminated earlier by either party.

Still, there have been some issues to work out. Trustees with Sierra Vista Regional Health Center say one of the major concerns has been a prohibition on sterilization procedures that will occur at the hospital as a result of the agreement. They say the prohibition is part of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services used by Carondelet, a Catholic, nonprofit network.

"The decision on concluding sterilization procedures in the hospital was one of the major issues the Board had to consider, and the need had to be balanced against the overall improvements in healthcare we anticipate with this arrangement," says a letter signed by the hospital's board of trustees that is posted on the hospital Web site.

"After much consideration of this issue, the Board concluded that there would be a greater community benefit to moving forward with this partner rather than having (the hospital) remain status quo," the letter adds. "The board also indicated a commitment to assisting our obstetric physicians during this transition."

A March 9 letter sent to the board by Sierra Vista obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Cynthia Funckes on behalf of "Concerned Physicians of Sierra Vista Regional Health Center" says the agreement will affect other reproductive health services, not just sterilizations.

The letter was co-signed by Judith Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights for the National Women's Law Center, and by Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch Project, which says its mission is ensuring that health care is guided by unbiased medical information and each patient's own religious or ethical beliefs.

On Sunday, the Sierra Vista hospital ran an advertisement in the Sierra Vista Herald that says the only services that will be discontinued are direct sterilization procedures and IUD insertion, except for directly therapeutic purposes.

The hospital will continue to treat ectopic pregnancies and will still use Plan B (the morning-after pill) for rape victims, says the advertisement, which was signed by hospital President and CEO Margaret Hepburn and board of trustees chair Larry Kope.

The Carondelet Health Network operates four hospitals in Southern Arizona as well as the Carondelet Neurological Institute, 20 primary care and specialty care offices, two ambulatory surgery centers and various outpatient services.

Sierra Vista Regional Health Center, which has a long history of providing care to Sierra Vista and Fort Huachuca, is an 88-bed hospital.

Officials with the Sierra Vista hospital say joining forces will give them more in-depth resources.

Contreras said the agreement allows Carondelet to leverage assets across a wider geographic area, to achieve efficiencies and cost savings.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or