CRITICS CONTEND SUTTER NEVER HAD RIGHT TO MAKE AGREEMENT FOR FACILITY IT DID NOT OWN
By Steven Tavares
Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan has notified the CEO of the Alameda County Medical Center the Board of Supervisors will not support a potential lease it signed in 2009 with Sutter Health for San Leandro Hospital.
In a letter sent April 19, Chan, writing on behalf of the Board of Supervisors, told Alameda County Medical Center CEO Wright Lassiter the proposal cannot go forward and offered to begin discussions for an alternative plan to replace the acute rehabilitation beds due to be lost by the closing of Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro.
Chan said recent reports have shown the need to maintain emergency services and acute beds at San Leandro Hospital trumps an also critical dearth of acute rehabilitation beds in the county, making the 2009 deal “no longer feasible.” She also made reference to considerable opposition in the community to closing San Leandro Hospital’s emergency room.
“Additionally, the San Leandro community and leadership have raised continual and strong objections to the proposal since learning about the [Memorandum of Understanding,]” said Chan. “I am sure you would agree that the community would have to accept the MOU for any conversion to be successful.”
After a series of legal setbacks for the Eden Township Healthcare District’s fight against Sutter to maintain current services at the community facility, a new direction in the nearly three-year-old struggle is clearly in the planning stages. The correspondence from Chan points to a larger move by the Board of Supervisors to lay the groundwork to entice Sutter Health to an alternative plan for the future of San Leandro Hospital.
Earlier this month, the CEO of St. Rose Hospital, Michael Mahoney, put forth a proposal to merge his facility with San Leandro Hospital under the Eden Township Healthcare District whereby the two hospitals would attain a greater economy of scale to pull in federal dollars. Under the plan, both facilities would maintain their current services, but merge management structures. The District and Mahoney will also take the details of the proposal to larger audience in coming weeks. A town hall discussion featuring Mahoney will take place May 17 at the new San Leandro Senior Community Center next door to San Leandro Hospital.
The existence of the Board of Supervisor’s support for replacing the loss of acute rehab facilities at the seismically-deficient Fairmont Hospital by transferring them to San Leandro Hospital has long been the linchpin by which Sutter has been able maneuver despite considerable protest by local residents. Until now, the board had sat on the sidelines as the District attempted to fight Sutter in the courts. After successive losses in Superior and appellate courts, the District may be moving in a different direction.
Chan’s involvement in changing the board’s direction is different than her predecessor Alice Lai-Bitker who despite a willingness to reverse its position, failed to gain a majority of the support at the board of supervisors. Chan also says she has asked Sen. Ellen Corbett to gain extensions for the closing of Fairmont Hospital that would likely buy the county more time to sort out what many county health officials say is a legitimate shortage of acute rehab beds in Alameda County.
The MOU between Sutter Health and the Alameda County Medical Center signed in the summer of 2009 in many ways intensified the anger between the community and a majority of the District board members who believed the hospital provider had no legal right to negotiate a lease for a property it did not own. Announcement of the lease came just a day after the District voted against approving Sutter right to purchase San Leandro Hospital.
A legal fight over possession of the property’s title continues today. Residents became further incensed when various the Alameda County Healthcare Service director said he believed the through language in the MOU signed between the District and Sutter in 2008, Sutter’s purchase price would be zero.