Saving San Leandro Hospital is the battle most politicians here would rather fight with cardboard swords and paper hats than with guns-a-blazing leadership. It’s an odd duck of an issue where everyone, including the constituency, is firmly on one side. Numerous hearing and hundreds of speakers have voiced vociferous support without a single voice of disapproval. That we sit on the cusp of losing some or all of our hospital only shows how one powerful corporation can severely overshadow the will of the people and how we need to take it back.

The fact remains Sutter Healthcare holds all the cards and seemingly no amount of quick-witted legislation from state Sen. Ellen Corbett or Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi will save it. Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker never really had the votes to do much and the local city officials–the mayor of San Leandro and city council–can only sit idle until fate comes calling.
We must remember Sutter did not wrest control of Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and San Leandro Hospital by force. Instead, they easily cajoled an all-too-eager group of hospital directors to cede the control originally bestowed upon them by the voters.

Nearly every current politician in office since Sutter first floated plans in 2004 to close San Leandro Hospital claim innocence in their inactivity to save the hospital until the proverbial bottom of the ninth. In researching a feature for The Citizen due in a few weeks, a few of the most angry speakers at these public hearings are the same people who spoke of Sutter in glowing terms just five years ago.
In clinical terms, what our leaders did was enable Sutter to slowly devour public oversight of both hospitals. Not only was Sutter allowed to circumvent the provisions of Measure A, which they lauded in 1997 as a civic panacea which eventually led to purchase of Eden Hospital, they also made a mockery of representative government. The elected board of five members became 11, including five appointed by Sutter in addition to the CEO of Eden Medical Center George Bishalaney. Destpite the clamor by the residents of San Leandro, Sutter has lowered its head, plugged its ears and charged forward unmolested. In their wake they have done more than manipulate democracy, but have completely undermined it with mind-blowing efficiency.

Today, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors will respond to citizen concerns from last month’s Eden Township hearings and listen to more recommendations for a solution to the hospital. Haven’t we already made it clear what we want? Here’s the cruel reality: every part of our state government, from the budget mess in Sacramento to the local level with this issue, is hamstrung; paralyzed to function in one way or the other. The politicians who say they want to keep the hospital open are truly genuine, but none have the political will or the opportunity to administer a cure. The game has been deftly stacked in Sutter’s favor. Nothing happens until they make a move; whenever they choose to make it and how. This is why Corbett and Hayashi’s bill to allow the county move time to maneuver is ridiculous. If passed, the bill would not be in effect until the beginning of next year. Giving Sutter that much time to act beforehand is like telling your enemies the time and date of your military invasion.

If you listen closely to Hayashi and Lai-Bitker, the new consensus may be to devise a plan that allows the county to lease the emergency room. This is called cutting your losses. This is where we are presently. In medical terms, our politicians are amputating the hospital’s arms and legs to save as much as they can. If you are of the belief, like many in the nurse’s union, that keeping some part of the hospital open, no matter who runs it, equals success, then this is the strategy for you. For them, this is also about staving off the unemployment line. Yet this gambit only “saves” the hospital for now, but still gives the public a net deficit in local health care and this is not why over 500 residents packed the library last month.

This issue is about life and death to many in this community. It is also about the viability of San Leandro. As the city hopes to grow, how can it justify to future taxpayers and businesses that it is a forward-thinking municipality when it can’t even hold on to it’s only hospital? The voters have been bamboozled for nearly 12 years by Sutter, the Eden Township Board of Directors and our local politicians. The question is can the con continue for a few more months and reach its conclusion or will the people restore the order of government with themselves perched atop the plain of Corporate America? Politicians generally respond to two things: lawsuits and the threat of withholding your vote come election time. We need to start doing both of these.