Candidates Flesh Out Stances on Hospital

HAYWARD FORUM FEATURES PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE(?) 
 SUPERVISOR-DIST 3The most pressing issue for the three candidates hoping to replace Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker is San Leandro Hospital. The San Leandro-centric issue may also deliver the city and the board seat to the person who best communicates a strategy going forward. Below are excerpts from Saturday’s candidates forum held by the Hayward Demos Democratic Club along with analysis of each response:

WILMA CHAN

As you probably know the board of supervisors voted last year to make [San Leandro Hospital] into a rehab-only facility and that is not satisfactory to the community. I would work to change that plan. Right now, I think there are two viable options that I’m actually looking into, so I don’t know which one we’ll end up with. One would be if Sutter would release the lease and another provider would come in and buy it. The other option is the county continues the lease, but to do a hybrid model where it would be one or one-and-a-half floors of rehab, but retain acute care beds and the ER. I’m working with the unions. I’m working with folks in the community. I went down to the hospital and talked to some of the doctors. I’ve already started working on this. I think we need to see which one is more viable. The main goal is this hospital has been here 50 years, it serves 27,000 in the emergency room. If it goes away where are these people going to go?

Chan has already shown an impressive grasp of the San Leandro Hospital situation, both its history and the various plans bandied about during the past year. Her background is health care and she has her fingerprints on a few of the local instances where communities nearly lost their hospitals, but were saved. Her statement, though, is similar to the current supervisor, Alice Lai-Bitker, who voted for the county to convert the hospital to a acute rehabilitation facility. When the possibility of another provider, Prime Healthcare, made its interest known, Lai-Bitker tried to rescind the county’s offer in advance of possibly negotiating with the Southern California provider. She could not find a a decisive third vote on the board and Sutter publicly balked at a rival in the vicinity of a rebuilt Eden Medical Center. Two things to remember, if Chan could cajole Sutter into allowing a competitor at San Leandro Hospital, the supervisor’s seat is hers, but the odds are greater Jesus IS resurrected next Sunday outside the Marshall’s on Marina Boulevard. In additiohn, the “hybrid option” has been mentioned by nearly every politician in the county, but without the elusive subsidies behind it or cooperation by myriad entities, it’s the equivalent of lazily kicking a can down the road.

BEVERLY JOHNSON

This is a critical issue not only for San Leandro, but for our entire region. Alameda Hospital was at risk of closing eight years ago and I helped lead the process to establish a hospital district and to do what we needed to do to keep the hospital open. The delivery of healthcare doesn’t just affect the community where it is but every community around it. I think we need to stop–and I’ve also been working on this issue–we need to stop the progress where we are now. Bring it to a screeching halt. Sutter says that hospital is operating at a loss. We don’t know that. Sutter is a big enough corporation through accounting techniques, they could assign more losses to San Leandro Hospital and assign more revenues to some other hospital to make San Leandro Hospital do worse than it really is. I’m sure it’s not doing really well because no hospital really is. Alameda Hospital is also having to find out how to survive. I believe we need to stop this process right now and develop a long-term straregic plan for the delivery of health care services throughout the county and that’s what I would work on as supervisor.

If Chan represents the candidate who could possibly step into the San Leandro Hospital issue at the county level without playing catch-up, Johnson’s statements here and earlier, may show someone more in line with the current healthcare district’s vein of activism. She says she wants to call a ceasefire and push reset. In many ways, this is what Carole Rogers and the Eden Township Board is trying to do by suing Sutter and whiping away the disastrous 2007 memorandum of understanding. Accusing Sutter of cooking the books is also a constant critique by supporters of the hospital and gobbled up like dangling juicy hanger steak over a hungry pack of wolves. Also, when she says, “do what we needed to do” in reference to keeping Alameda Hospital open, what she means is the city taxed itself to fund the facility. Not to put words in her mouth, but a similar proposal is in the whisper stages in San Leandro. Although, she has been vague on what a comprehensive county-wide health care plan would be, the view fro county health officials is any plan for San Leandro Hospital and the system as a whole needs to include long-term investment, something nobody has come close to offering up.

HAROLD LOWE

San Leandro Hospital, I think, covers somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 people a year and it’s interesting to understand someone would talk about closing a hospital when we’re getting ready to add 30 million people who have no health insurance–4 million in California and roughtly 200,000 in the our county. I think that’s the compelling argument right now. We have the ability to talk to Summit [Sutter?] and say, look, we have 30 million people coming from the rolls of the uninsured. I like to be able to address that. One of the things you’ll find from me is I want to have top-to-top conversations and the broaden the conversation.

First of all, mistakingly calling Sutter Health, Summit, is not good when the county’s interaction with the health care provider is one of the board of supervisor’s most pressing questions. Second, misstating the number of patient visits to the emergency room by a third only makes it appear the 41-year-old financial planner may be over his head (Chan deftly used the opportunity to squeeze in the correct figure, 27,000, during her own response). Aside from the glaring mistakes, many in the audience were impressed by Lowe, with one calling him a future prospect in local politics, but his statements regarding the hospital amounted to a general indictment of closing x-hospital, in y-city, in z-state within the backdrop of post-healthcare reform America. As far as having a “top-to-top” conversation with Sutter, anybody even sure what that means?

-STEVEN TAVARES 

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