SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders' choice for a new sponsor on the front of the team's uniforms has drawn backlash from fans.
Providence Swedish and the Sounders announced a "community-focused" partnership that includes Providence replacing Zulily as the new jersey front sponsor of the team.
The Sounders FC Community Alliance Council -- an officially-sanctioned group of season-ticket holders for the club -- released a statement Monday expressing trepidation over the partnership. It said the group plans to meet with Sounders leadership in the coming days to discuss concerns.
"The Seattle Sounders have stood tall as a club that believes, among other things, that 'Reproductive Rights are Human Rights' and that they 'Stand For LGBTQ+ Equality'. However, these values do not seem to be reflected in Providence’s policies around abortion rights, fairness in the treatment of transgender people, and low-income patients. This is a confusing and disappointing club decision and is in direct opposition to the Sounders’ Social Impact goals and promises," said the council's statement in part.
The Washington Department of Health's website states that Providence, a Catholic non-profit health care system, does not cover most abortion-related services due to a religious objection. DOH pays for abortion services for people with Providence health plans, due to Providence being part of the state health insurance market.
Nine Providence-affiliated facilities also were part of a lawsuit filed by the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson in February 2022 for allegedly failing to ensure low-income Washington residents received discounts they were legally entitled to.
Washington's charity care law requires hospitals to provide free and discounted inpatient and outpatient care to eligible residents, according to the Washington State Hospital Association. Hospitals are responsible for maintaining their own charity care programs.
The lawsuit alleges Providence instructed employees to not "accept the first no" from patients. The hospitals allegedly trained staff to encourage employees to continue pressing patients for payment even if they say they aren't able to pay. Employees are allowed to discuss financial assistance if patients decline to set up a payment plan.
Ferguson also alleged the hospitals failed to notify patients they were eligible for charity care even after determining they qualified. Washington law requires hospitals provide notice that charity care is available and screen patients for charity care eligibility before attempting to collect payment.
In a November deposition, a Providence financial executive admitted that hospitals continue to send patients eligible for financial assistance to collections, according to the AG's office. Ferguson alleges the hospitals have been failing to ensure eligible patients receive charity care since 2018.
The trial is set to begin in August 2023.
Emerald City Supporters, the largest Sounders fan group, posted an open letter to the team's leadership on its website titled, "What happened to our shared values?"
The Sounders shared a statement with KING 5 indicating that the team has had conversations with supporter groups and the alliance council, and will continue that dialogue.
"Following Friday’s announcement," the statement begins, "our club has been actively listening to feedback from members of the Sounders community and engaging with our supporters groups and Alliance Council. We’ve held honest and productive conversations with these groups, and we’re continuing that dialogue in the coming days. Openness and transparency are key pillars of our Democracy in Sports ethos, and we always welcome direct discussion with our fans.
"We continue to be proud of our relationship with Providence and all that it can do for our region. From our earliest collective conversations, this partnership was always about a combined organizational commitment to area youth and making communities healthier places to live.
"We also need our community to know that our club values remain unchanged. We believe that every woman has the right to make healthcare decisions for themselves. Our club is also unwavering in its support for the LGBTQ+ community, and we are committed to making Washington the safest and most inclusive place to live, work and play, especially for transgender and gender-diverse youth. We are resolutely dedicated to these beliefs.
"As a club, we work with many types of people and organizations across our community. Part of living our values is being able to communicate them to different audiences. Providence has chosen to partner with Sounders FC because they value who we are and what we do. They are fully behind us continuing to honor our core club beliefs."
In a statement, Providence said it is "not surprised by how passionate Sounders fans are." However, there is misinformation being spread about Providence, the statement reads.
"Providence has been part of the Seattle community since 1877. Swedish has been here since 1910. Together, we serve about 1.6 million patients a year across the state of Washington. We are deeply committed to the health of this region and want to see it grow and thrive.
"We are also proud of our long history of working with diverse partners of goodwill to meet the needs of the community, especially those who are underserved. Our new partnership with the Sounders is an excellent example of that.
"We respect that the team has taken strong positions on key issues and are not asking them to change. We want the Sounders to continue to be exactly who they are.
"Together, we will focus on a common area of interest: youth mental health. One of the things that spurred us to action is a recent study that showed that more than 20% of 12th graders in King County had suicidal ideation over the last 12 months while 16% of eighth graders reported having a detailed plan to end their life. The urgency to act could not be greater, and as two Renton-based organizations, we are excited to start in our own backyard, working with the Renton School District. As the details of our youth mental health program take shape, we look forward to keeping Sounders fans and the Seattle community up to date.
"At the heart of the mission of Providence is a deep commitment to serving all, especially those who are most vulnerable.
"We are especially proud of the care available at Swedish to meet the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. To learn more, visit: