Nurses protest the possible closing of San Leandro Hospital in front of the Alameda County Administration Building in Oakland.

By Steven Tavares

When Eden Township Healthcare District Chair Carole Rogers was asked about what is next for the board after an Alameda County judge ruled in favor of Sutter Health in its countersuit against the operator of San Leandro Hospital, her answer was unwavering. “Damn the torpedoes,” she said, “full speed ahead.”

The District approved a course of action Wednesday night to appeal Superior Court Judge Marshall Whitley’s ruling in favor of Sutter in the case which could have potentially scuttled their plans to close San Leandro Hospital. The District’s appeal may give the hospital another year of life as the case winds through the appellate process.

“Our efforts have kept the doors open for months longer than originally planned,” the District said in a statement read after their closed session meeting Wednesday. “This has saved lives and protected the health of our community. This is the mandate of the Eden Township Healthcare District. This is why we decided to pursue legal action in the first place and why we are pursuing appellate review now.”

Dr. Francisco Rico, who was named in the District’s countersuit and is a former boardmember, has long criticized the board’s legal action against Sutter and urged them not to appeal the decision. Rico called the litigation “ill-advised” and faulted the board for spending $1.7 million in legal fees. “You are gambling with other people’s money,” Rico said.

Judge Whitley found the claims against Rico, whose anesthesiology group had financial ties to Sutter while he negotiated the controversial 2008 memorandum of understanding for the District, did not rise to the threshold of a financial conflict-of-interest nor did he “serve two masters” in his role as District director negotiating with Sutter.

A larger-than-normal group of hospital supporters urged the board to follow through with the countersuit on appeal. “It is absolutely essential for the community to have a full-service hospital,” said Joanne Jung, a labor representative for the California Nurses Association. She described other Sutter-operated hospitals in the region affiliated with CNA union members that have undergone recent cutbacks in service, including Mills-Peninsula in Burlingame and Alta Bates in Berkeley. “Patients are being abandoned,” she said.

Carol Barazi, a nurse at San Leandro Hospital, said the flow of patients at the hospital is overwhelming the supply of services it can provide. “The emergency room at San Leandro Hospital is bursting at the seams with patients,” said Barazi, who also noted beds for its intensive care unit are in high demand along with surgeries scheduled well into the night. She said not appealing the court’s decision does not help the community. “What is going to happen is that it will only serve Sutter and the county supervisors, and that’s it.”