ALLEGED INDISCRETIONS BY DISTRICT AND SUTTER RANKLE CITIZENS
By STEVEN TAVARES
CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. – Welcome to the Great Hospital Caper.
Two Eden Township Healthcare District members continued to question the bizarre set of events Wednesday which led to the cancellation of a pair of scheduled mediation and board meetings this week, while shedding more light on an emerging tale of comic intrigue Director Carole Rogers mocked as “The Sutter Follies.”
Directors Dr. Vin Sawhney and Rogers along with over 75 participants arrived at Eden Medical Center for what they thought was an opportunity to voice concern over the possible closure of San Leandro Hospital by Sutter Health, which leases the facility from the District. Instead, they learned the scheduled meeting was cancelled by Board Chair Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar due to a lack of a quorum. Sawhney and Rogers questioned the legality of one member cancelling a meeting and at such haste. Sawhney told the group he learned of the cancellation by email at 9:30 the night before and did not understand how Ratnesar assumed at least three of the five members would not attend without asking.
“I’m not sure how he concluded there was not enough for a quorum if I did not receive a call and [Carole] did not receive a call.”
Rogers said she spoke to another board member Dr. Walter Kran early Wednesday who said he was “in town and available” for the meeting. Eden Township Healthcare District CEO Dev Mahadevan yesterday had given no reason to The Citizen
for the absence of Kran. When Rogers inquired whether Kran planned on attending the regularly scheduled board meeting he said, “let me ask Dev.”
It was reported yesterday that Kran told Sawhney, who was appointed to take Rogers place on the mediation committee, to meet him at his home and follow him to the “secret location” for mediation concerning the District’s dispute over Sutter’s option to purchase San Leandro Hospital and subsequent closing as a full-service facility.
Rogers said she believes Ratnesar’s actions are the result of fears the District could lose both San Leandro Hospital and the future rebuilt Eden Medical Center by her actions. “Dr. Ratnesar believes that if we strike down the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will cancel out the rebuild of Eden Hospital. I don’t think Sutter is going to back down from Eden Hospital,” Rogers said. “They already have too much invested, but that is the danger of striking down the MOU.” She also added the concern was unfounded since the preceding 2004 agreement held Sutter accountable to rebuild Eden.
The strange set of occurrences in the past week clearly irked many who attended the unofficial meeting in Castro Valley with one making a connection between the alleged actions and that of a television series. “Working with Sutter and some elements of this health care district is sort of like Patton Place,” said Mia Ousley of the San Leandro Community Action Network. “I feel like I’m in the television show Lost where everything is so mysterious and bizarre. This is the stuff that movies are made of. It’s not the way real people are supposed to act in real life.”
State Sen. Ellen Corbett, who earlier in the meeting announced the attorney general’s office is looking into allegations faulting Sutter for improper business practices of which she requested last month, questioned possible improprieties by District administrators in regards to recent attempts to circumvent the board through mediation and closed session meetings.
“I’m very suspicious that the executive director has not pushed the auditor to go forward and is pushing harder for mediation,” said Corbett. During the same meeting last month when the District blocked Sutter purchase option for San Leandro Hospital, they also approved a motion by Sawhney to hire an outside auditor to peruse the hospital’s books. No action has yet been taken.
Corbett also expressed concern with an agenda item which attempted to pursue action in closed session of the infamous missing 2007 minutes the board decided last month to not vote upon. “It is very inappropriate to discuss minutes in closed session,” Corbett said.
Labor Representative Mike Brannan of the California Nurses Association took exception over what he believes is corrupt behavior by some members of the District and Sutter.
“When you think about removing people who were appointed through board action, closing meetings to public access, lying to cancel a meeting; it is outrageous behavior. Every time I think they have done something that ‘Wow, they can’t top this one,’ then they always find something else. I don’t know that we can say there wasn’t a mediation meeting or there won’t be one that nobody knows about. Who knows what they will try to get away with?”
Brannan says Sutter is apprehensive to confront charges made by Rogers and others that the MOU they signed with the District may be legally problematic. “They want this mediation to go through without the conflict of interest issue. It is obvious that is what they are afraid of,” said Brannan. “When we think about it, Ratnesar, who is one of the people alleged to have the conflict of interest is the person who removed Carole Rogers from the mediation committee. It’s like Nixon trying to fire the special prosecutor. I think they are getting so deep into this thing that they are willing to go for broke and willing to expose themselves legally.”
While a few doctors and nurses were lamenting the fact certain board members were not in attendance to lambaste or calculating a plan to recall one of the directors, others expressed concern over the cost to the community if the hospital ceases operation and troubled by the lack of funding available for an important public asset.
Doug Jones, a community activist and former Eden Medical Center employee says over 1,300 patients with critical care illnesses are treated every year at San Leandro Hospital’s emergency room. “We know San Leandro Hospital’s closure would hurt any future medical care in Castro Valley. It’s unavoidable. The five to twenty minutes they would spend in transport from near San Leandro Hospital to whatever hospital would kill a lot of patients, no doubt about it.”
One of the main sticking points attached to any possible working arrangement without Sutter’s involvement has been a lack of subsidies most agree will be needed. Alameda County Health Services estimate permanent yearly funding of between $3-5 million is needed. To this date, none of the plans put forth for saving the hospital have come attached with a price tag. Brian Tseng of the Physicians Organizing Committee, though, believes even cash-strapped Sacramento can come through with the money.
“If the state can give $1.5 billion away in subsidies to the largest corporations in California for this state budget alone-well, they’ve got the money–$5-10 million to keep San Leandro Hospital open is really just a red herring.”
Sawhney concluded the nearly 90 minute meeting by addressing rumors among nurses and hospital employees of administrators encouraging them to begin looking for new jobs in advance of the hospital’s possible closure.
“I think they want you to be discouraged. They want you believing the hospital will close and you don’t have any options,” Sawhney said. “I think it is part of a strategy so that you do not become active, you do not fight and you do not make any effort to keep it. We have so far proven that we can do it by coming together.”
I believe that Sutter does listen to some of what’s going on. We don’t know what they may or may not do, but I think you should not be discouraged just because you get told by the administration that the hospital is going to close. We should keep fighting until the last day, even if we go down, we must fight.”