It’s Not Over: In Non-Binding Vote Directors Reject Alameda County

SUPERVISOR ALICE LAI-BITKER WILL RECOMMEND BOARD OF SUPERVISORS RESCIND COUNTY OFFER…..DIRECTOR RATNESAR ABSTAINS FROM VOTE…..SUTTER CEO LEFT DUMBFOUNDED…..OVER 500 PEOPLE PACK LIBRARY…..UNION REP SAYS “IT’S NOT OVER” THOUGH.

By STEVEN TAVARES
The Citizen
San Leandro Hospital lives to fight another day, for now. Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Alice Lai-Bitker changed the entire dynamic of the fate of San Leandro Hospital last night announcing she will ask her board to rescind the county’s offer to move rehabilitation services to the facility.

Lai-Bitker said the impetus for her decision was in response to an announcement earlier in the day Sutter Health would transfer their option to buy the embattled hospital to the Alameda County Medical Center. “We came in because there was no other option, so now there is an option,” she said of an offer from a Southern California company to purchase the hospital, “The directors deserve to have the process go through and explore and evaluate whether it’s a viable option.”

Sutter’s deal with Alameda County reportedly made over the weekend riled an already angry overflow crowd of over 500 residents who charged the healthcare provider with corruption and accusations of some Eden Township directors presenting instances of a conflict of interest.

The last of three public meetings on the issue was believed to have led to a resolution Monday night until the vote was removed from the board’s agenda. Director Dr. Vin Sawhney surprised the crowd when he interrupted Board President Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar with a motion calling for the directors to take a position on the proposal in the absence of an official document. Sawhney’s subsequent successful motion set forth a chain of unseen events that may have made things complicated for Sutter Health, the owner of both San Lenadro Hospital and Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.

“In these cases, somebody has to stand up and do what he did and he did it, to his credit. Otherwise, it’s just wishful thinking,” said David Brannan of the California Nurses Association, “Somebody has to actually stop the train and he did.”

A lawyer for the Eden Township advised the board the addition of an amendment without prior consideration would violate the Brown Act that promotes open government and suggested a non-binding straw poll, instead. The move allowed the public to hear the board’s opinions on the possible closing of San Leandro Hospital for the first time. Four of the five directors voted against the county’s proposal with Dr. Walter Kran saying he “strongly rejected” the proposal along with Sawhney and a tepid response from Dr. Harry Dvorsky. Director Carole Rogers, an employee of the Alameda County Medical Center, jokingly wondered whether she would still have a job before saying the “corporate takeover of San Leandro Hospital is a travesty.”

Board President Ratnesar, while communicating solidarity with the rest of the board said he agreed the community needed emergency room services at San Leandro Hospital, but awkwardly chose to abstain from voting in response to various charges from the public that he represented the interests of Sutter Health. Ratnesar is currently an employee of the company. “I came to these meetings with an open mind,” he told the crowd, “To come here with a predetermined position would have made these meetings a sham and a mockery.” Afterwards, Ratnesar told The Citizen: “In my conscience I have no conflict of interest.”

The surprising turn of events came as a shock to Eden Medical Center CEO George Bischelaney who sat towards the back of the room in a sea of sometimes raucous applause and invectives against his company. When asked his response to the board’s actions he said, “Uh, actually I don’t know” and believes in the integrity of the Eden Township Board. “I think there are independent,” he said, “You saw how they made their decision.”

The developments now put Sutter in a political bind with the possibility of now having to deal with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to decide the fate of San Leandro Hospital. Critics believe Sutter Health wants to avoid dealing with a competitor at San Leandro Hospital to challenge their planned $300 million rebuild of Eden Medical Center. Bischelaney was ambivalent towards a proposal from rival hospital administrator Prime Healthcare, which owns 13 hospitals in the state.“The proposal was obviously made to the district, so it remains to be seen what they do with it,” Bischelaney said, “Maybe, they will considerate it more. I really don’t know. If that’s what they choose to do; if it ends up that way, it ends up that way.”

Brannan, a labor leader for the nurses is more pessimistic about Sutter’s intentions. “He’s got his marching papers from Sutter in Sacramento and that is to do whatever you can to make sure a competitor doesn’t get that facility,” he said.

While the hospital may have won a temporary reprieve, the political wranglings last night assure that the issue will continue for weeks and possibly months if the Eden Township Board is given the chance to conduct due diligence on a proposal from Prime Healthcare or another unforeseen party, yet Brannan still believes Sutter’s deal with the county could still be revived.

“They are going to try to do this deal with the county despite what you heard here tonight. I really don’t think this is over,” Brannan said, “There are factions in the county who want that to happen and they are lobbying for that to happen.”