Unified Public Sentiment is Driving Hospital Issue

At 5:30 p.m. yesterday evening, the San Leandro Library’s Dave Karp Room was nearly full. Thirty minutes before the scheduled Eden Township Board meeting, the room with the dividers open to gain the full expanse of the room, was a bundle of chatty energy. By the time, Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar opened the meeting shortly past six, every seat was filled and the perimeter of the large conference room was lined with citizens angry that any government body would dare close a public asset such as their hospital.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the furor over the possible loss of San Leandro Hospital has been the slowly rising tenor of voices from elderly San Leandrans to cocksure doctors and hard-working nurses. The core of the movement has always been there. Followers of this story have listened to a small group of about dozen concerned citizens consistently address nearly every and any government body that will listen. On their backs, the tide of anger has risen precipitously as more people learn the details of Sutter Health’s plan to turn over the hospital to the county for a acute rehabilitation facility.

“It’s really exploded,” said David Brannan, a labor representative for the California Nurses Association, “It’s been a community effort with health care workers and doctors. Everybody was just sounding the alarm. At first, it wasn’t happening. It was just falling on deaf ears, but obvious now the community is in alert mode.”

There were times in past month, when the San Leandro Hospital story seemed more like a labor issue than a public health concern. Of course, they are both since hundreds of workers could lose their jobs or be transferred to other county hospitals, yet at times the angry voices were mainly doctors and nurses with a few sprinkled senior citizens. The group has growned as of late, highlighted by a nearly capacity crowd for a Thursday afternoon hearing. Monday night’s gathering was comprised of residents of every age and color hollering and cheering every applause line delivered by speakers. Sometimes they booed heartily while others shouted catcalls towards the board.

“The response from the public is not unexpected,” Eden Medical Center CEO George Bischelaney told The Citizen at the conclusion of last night’s meeting, “The public has an interest in keeping their hospital.” Bischelaney was literally one man against the entire world last night, while another person became branded the savior of the cause.

“It’s a natural thing,” said the President of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Alice Lai-Bitker, who announced she would motion to withdraw the county’s offer to Sutter, “Nobody wants to have their hospital close. With more people finding out about it, the more they are speaking out against it.” It seems those early voices are beginning to echo through the community. As Brannan observed, in three heavily-attended public meetings in the past week, not a single speaker voiced approval for the transfer of the hospital to an acute rehab facility.

These may be the times we live in. The corporate behavior of Sutter Health may represent everything Americans loath about the current economy and, more importantly, how its entitlement, arrogance and hubris has made the public suffer. Nobody wants to lose a hospital, but maybe the growing avalanche of civic participation for this issues represents something different–the people of San Leandro saying enough is enough.

Categories: CNA, David Brannan, economy, George Bishelany, S.L. Hospital, Sutter

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