Let’s get into the Hospital Business

THE EDITORIAL

San Leandro Councilman Michael Gregory loathes the idea of a hospital closing in his district under his watch “for any reason.” There really isn’t a good occasion for such a critical service to be lost, but during trying economic times like these the moment seems more like another kick in the gut than a jab our community can easily recover.

Unemployment is rising in the Bay Area. An already expensive place to live is only putting a harder pinch on the bottom line and uncertainty is the coin of the realm. It’s no wonder the possible closing of emergency services at San Leandro Hospital has hit such a nerve. A paying job and money in your pockets are merely material aspects of our life. Our health and quick access to it is a jarring look at our mortality. 

Hearings and local government meetings in past month has repeatedly featured a band of hardy and tenacious civic-minded citizens who have chastised officials for their lack of transparency and political guts. They have told compelling stories of the hospital saving their lives, extending their time with loved ones and describing the peace of mind that comes with having doctors and nurses at the ready in case their health fails them. 
The behind-the-scenes tug-of-war between the Alameda County Medical Center, Sutter Health and recently Prime Healthcare is a microcosm of the nation’s broken medical system where as Bono once wrote, ‘the rich stay healthy, the sick stay poor.’
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If Americans, in general, are scared, imagine the torment of the woman who told the large crowd at last Monday’s Eden Township District meeting she fears having to awake in the middle of the night to rush her elderly husband to the emergency room that she sleeps fully clothed–just in case. The faces of the five-member board apparently translated a look of indifference to her plight, so she chastised them saying, “Don’t smile at me like that. You don’t live in San Leandro.”
With times of pessimism often comes bouts of apathy. They might say, “that’s what powerful corporation do, they control the levers of government to their advantage” or feel powerless over the inevitable cadre of slickly-dressed lawyers who arrive making things go the big shot’s way. But, during these times, apathy has turned to the type of anger that leads to change. Sutter fears this uprising as evidence to recent shenanigans and possible ringers walking among the the public at last Thursday’s healthcare district meeting. They have too much riding on this vote to sit back and let the public determine its outcome.
The behind-the-scenes tug-of-war between the Alameda County Medical Center, Sutter Health and recently Prime Healthcare is a microcosm of the nation’s broken medical system where as Bono once wrote, “the rich stay healthy, the sick stay poor,” but San Leandrans are mad and ready to fight. With that San Leandro faces the prospect of an ugly catch-22; where a powerful health care provider like Sutter slithers from city to city maximizing profits like a department chain store looking to go upscale or the choice of teaming with an obvious carpetbagging billionaire huckster like Dr. Prem Reddy and Prime Healthcare promising medical nirvana. These are not choices, but the extension of further corruption of government officials and exploitation of this area’s underclass. Unfortunately, there is only one option that at least roots out the nefarious actors, but it will costs us.
San Leandro needs to go into the hospital business. Mayor Tony Santos’ suggestion to the Eden Township District Board of Directors to draw up a ballot initiative enacting a hospital tax as a last resort, should be the next step in this saga. It will costs citizens of the healthcare district money in extra taxes, but you cannot accept a favorable end to this story without costs. That’s the cruel Hobson’s Choice our elected officials have condemned us to. The city of Alameda facing a similar dilemma a few years past went this route costing taxpayers $297 a year. Such a tax , though, would likely be far lower and spread over a larger electorate and would keep services open at the hospital. John Kalafatich, the man lovingly known as “Papa John” said, “When the emergency bell rings a couple of dollars doesn’t matter.”
No matter the outcome of this story, one thing is assured; the people of San Leandro have risen to the occasion all the while fostering a new civic attitude that can stand toe-to-toe with not just one, but three formidable opponents: their government, mighty corporate interests and, most of all, despair.