The Citizen

CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. – The conference tables at meeting room of the new Castro Valley Library were set up with the remaining four members of the Eden Township Healthcare District facing one of three candidates to replace departed member Dr. Walter Kran like a image often seen on Capitol Hill.

The scene took on all the accoutrements of someone testifying before Congress as Director Carole Rogers attempted to grill former board member and rival Dr. Francisco Rico for his role in negotiating disputed agreements with Sutter Health–the operator of San Leandro Hospital–in 2004 and 2007.

The board gathered Tuesday evening for a second round of interviews to replace Kran, who resigned Sept. 28. A seventh candidate, Dr. William West, will meet the group during their monthly meeting, Nov. 18, when he District will likely appoint one of the seven applicants. If not, it risks a Nov. 27 deadline to appoint a successor or send the decision to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

Rico’s interview was anticipated to be an opportunity for supporters of keeping San Leandro Hospital to have a chance to hear from one of its biggest detractors. Rico has publicly criticized Rogers handling of the hospital and believes her board actions against Sutter will put the rebuild of Eden Medical Center (already underway) in jeopardy. Director Dr. Vin Sawhney, who replaced Rico on the board last year, has also been criticized by the San Leandro anesthesiologist for allegedly sending patients to a Hayward clinic of which he has financial ties. Sawhney politely declined to ask Rico any questions.

When it came for Rogers to pose questions to Rico it appeared she had greater interest in pinning down testimony on his role in two contentious agreements the District made with Sutter in 2004 to rebuild Eden Medical Center and the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that eventually upheld Sutter’s decision to rebuild Eden. It also put at risk the closing of San Leandro Hospital if its financial condition, as stated by Sutter, did not improve. Rogers has repeatedly charged the 2007 MOU has no legal standing. She also contends the 2004 agreement to rebuild Eden should stand on its own.

Rico equivocated his answers to Rogers’ questions on his role, but communicated an extensive history of the last six years of negotiations with Sutter that, according to Rico, were sometimes bitter. Rico admitted Sutter had agreed to rebuild Eden in 2004, but was met with resistance afterwards amidst a looming 2008 deadline for hospitals in the state to seismically retrofit. The law was subsequently pushed back to 2013 and still weighs as a large factor in the predicament the county and district face with both facilities and Fairmont Hospital, also in San Leandro. Rico said he and current chair Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar anticipated Sutter might be in breach of contract over the deal as the deadline neared, which led to the 2007 MOU.

In response to a question from Rogers on how to make San Leandro Hospital profitable, Rico said, “I’m not sure I know how to convince Sutter because that’s one of the things we negotiated to replace Eden Medical Center,” he said. “I don’t know if I can promise any magic formula for Sutter to change their position at this time.”

Medical supplies owner Steven Ree Worley portrayed himself as an outsider to the politics of the District, but also expressed remorse for the plight of the hospital. “When I talk to my customers they tell me they use this hospital,” said Worley. “If everybody think there’s a need, I think we should find a way.”

He says he would bring a different perspective to the board, which is entirely comprised of medical professionals, since he works with patients as customers every day. “We should put them first. It’s the reason why we have a business. I don’t know if anybody sees it that way, but I do.” Worley also told the board he hoped San Leandro Hospital could be saved and said it would do well to improve its marketing of the 50-year-old facility.

A third applicant, Dr. Ronald Hull, is well-known to the board after two unsuccessful campaigns for the job in 2002 and 2006. Hull said he decided for a third run at the position as way to give back to the community he has served. He indicated he was in favor of keeping San Leandro Hospital since his parents, who he said have been married 58 years, still live in the city. Hull offered his backing for the hybrid proposal at the hospital and thinks obtaining sponsorships from San Leandro corporations could help fund the plan.

The final applicant slated to be interviewed Nov. 18 could be the most anticipated of the seven. West is out of the country which necessitated pushing back his interview until next week. Many figure West as the front runner favored by pro-hospital supporters with Director Dr. Harry Dvorsky being the deciding vote. If the board does not make a decision Nov. 18, it can still call a special meeting before the Nov. 27 deadline. If the previous voting bloc maintained at the county board of supervisors holds from earlier this summer when the issue was briefly discussed, supporters of keeping the hospital open would likely have only two votes out the five-member body The Board of Supervisor are currently pursuing a plan to have the Alameda County Medical Center take over San Leandro Hospital and convert it to a acute rehabilitation facility.

Aside from Rico, Worley, Hull and West, the board will also choose among previous applicants interviewed Nov. 5, Dr. Norbert Ralph, Lester Friedman and John Chin.
One Question on their Minds: What will you do for SLH?, Nov. 5