Suzanne Barba was a Eden Township Healthcare District Director from 1990-2006. She was replaced by current member Carole Rogers. During the last half of her tenure she sat on the board as Sutter Health entered the District and helped negotiate contentious agreements with the hospital provider in 2004 and 2007. She sat down Friday afternoon with The Citizen in San Lorenzo.
Sutter Health, at one time, had great interest in building a facility in the lucrative Dublin/Pleasanton market. Is it fair to say the District was trying to cut its loses by keeping Eden Medical Center over San Leandro Hospital or risk have no hospital at all?
When the board sat down with the other Sutter boards to look at where the business would be going, when you’re doing strategic planning, of course, the eastern section looked really ripe because that’s where the growth is. Castro Valley isn’t growing very large. San Leandro isn’t growing very large. Hayward is pretty static. Yeah, that was one of things we were afraid of. We were wondering whether they were going to retrofit [Eden] because they would rather be in Dublin. Well, as it turns out, they stayed with Eden and they’re going to build us a new hospital.
When you negotiated the Memorandum of Understanding in 2007 with Sutter was there any worry about the sections allowing San Leandro Hospital to be closed if it did not turn a profit and whether that could actually happen or was that not a concern at the time but subsequently became a huge factor in where the hospital’s fate stands today?
We really thought it was going to be okay because of the kind of effort we were putting into it. We tried to make the employees happy by raising their benefits and salaries and I think you can look at the seniority at a hospital and know whether they love their hospital. San Leandro is a good hospital, but it has changed hands and I don’t think this Prime Healthcare is a good deal for San Leandro. It’s a for-profit. [Owner Prem Reddy] has a history, but some people in San Leandro think its worth it. He’s promising the world and you know he’s not going to be able to deliver because the hospital is not making money. If he’s making money, it’s because he’s cutting corners.
When you talk about stars aligning, the county needed a place to put their rehabilitation facility, so here was a hospital losing a lot of its services anyway. So it seemed that we were doing good for the county. They don’t have to worry about retrofitting [Fairmont Hospital]. It’s good for Eden and the hospital stays in San Leandro.
There has been rumors that Sutter is using cost-shifting maneuvers to make it appear San Leandro Hospital is losing money when it is not. One story is Eden donates a large piece of medical equipment to San Leandro Hospital but is listed on San Leandro’s books as a severely overpriced expenditure for installation. Do you believe San Leandro Hospital is losing money despite doctors and nurses who describe a bustling facility?
I think it’s losing money. [District Director] Carole Rogers had an auditor look at the hospital’s book. They spent $40,000 and when they did the audit it came out the same way.
Why is San Leandro Hospital losing money?
One of the problems is doctors like Vin Sawhney are part owners of a surgery center that is in competition with hospital and that’s what a lot of the doctors did. They either have a surgery center or started doing some of the stuff in their offices.
What do you believe the outcome of this will be? Will it stay as a fully-functioning hospital with emergency room services or become rehab for the county?
I don’t see how it can stay open. It’s losing money. Nobody can really stay in business like that. That’s the bottom line whether you want it to stay open or not.
Despite enormous pressure from doctors, nurses and the public, it is still likely San Leandro Hospital will become a rehab facility. Do you any remorse or regrets for your part of negotiating the agreement if this happens?
I regret all those things that came together as a perfect storm had happened and then got worse. The doctors got mad and a mad doctor is not a cooperative doctor and they’re not working from the same agenda. The outrage I hear from San Leandro is the hospital being built in Castro Valley is too small. Well, the trend now is to outpatient surgery. The new hospital will have about 100 rooms that can be converted when needed. They’re not staffed, so you don’t have to staff those rooms that are empty, but if a pandemic occurs, they can convert those rooms into a larger hospital for all those people. You can look around, nobody is building monster-size hospitals anymore.
Critics say without an emergency room in San Leandro people are going to die. Is Castro Valley really too far for someone in San Leandro to get care?
It’s ten minutes and if it was a trauma situation they would be helicoptered over no matter where they are. If they’re talking about screwing up the building of the new hospital, they’re talking about losing the trauma service, so they better not wish for something or the they’re liable to get it. If they mess up Eden’s plans then they don’t have a trauma center in this area.
Wouldn’t you say it’s too late to use the “we might lose Eden, too” scenario when Sutter is already tearing up the earth in Castro Valley?
[Former District Director] Frank Rico is of the opinion that Sutter is just waiting to leave. No matter how much money they have put in so far, it’s nothing compared to what it is going to cost to build the whole thing. They are just looking for an excuse to back out and maybe go to Dublin.
And, you know, poor San Leandro, they are going to have a beautiful Kaiser there and I don’t think people realize you can go to the emergency room at Kaiser even if you’re not a member–it’s state law. I went to Kaiser emergency once. They stabilize you and then they send you, if they have to, to your regular hospital and then they bill. I remember at Eden, they had over a million dollars in money owed by Kaiser for patients they treated. They are so slow to pay.
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