By Steven Tavares
@eastbaycitizen on twitter

In his first public appearance on the newest proposal to save San Leandro Hospital, the CEO of Hayward’s St. Rose added details to the plan San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy called a “win-win situation” for the community.

Michael Mahoney began what likely will be a months-long public appeal to the residents of the Eden Township Healthcare District Tuesday night in San Leandro, asking them to support his plan whereby he would relinquish assets in St. Rose to the District, combine operations of both it and San Leandro Hospital while maintaining all the current services of both facilities, including a full-time emergency room.

Mahoney said it is time for the District, created in 1948, to return to its original charge as a hospital owner and operator. “If you’re making decisions on a regional basis, you don’t understand what happens from neighborhood to neighborhood,” said Mahoney. “We believe it is in the best interests of the residents of the Eden Township Healthcare District to support a proposal where the District will assume its rightful role as the owner and operator and really look at a transparent and public process to ensure that health care services are provided to all of the residents of the district and we do that building on the spirit of community.”

The inevitability of the “Big One” striking the East Bay at some point is always on the minds of local hospitals. Mahoney said the region must maintain operation of the facilities, since both are already seismically-retrofitted for such a calamity. “I think we all know there is this little thing called the Hayward Fault not far from us and its very important that we look for a way to keep a resource like San Leandro and St. Rose available for that day when we will have those kind of earth-shattering days.”

Prevailing wisdom among supporters of saving San Leandro Hospital in operation says the image-conscious Sutter Health is in no mood to build upon bad publicity over its business practices in nearby San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Marin, in addition, to a recent lawsuit by the state alleging it charged Medicare for anesthesiology services not rendered.

‘We need your help as a community,” added Eden Township Healthcare District Director Carole Rogers.” At this point in time Sutter is going to listen to you.” Various speakers called for the community to participate in the conversation by attending a town hall May 17 hosted by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett and Mahoney. Many point to a series of heavily-attended public meetings in 2009 as laying the groundwork for the District to stand up to Sutter.

It is still unclear whether Sutter has any incentive to accept Mahoney’s plan. He told The Citizen he has yet to discuss the proposal with Sutter officials, but says other entities have met with the operator of San Leandro Hospital.

Animosity from nurses and doctors and a band of community activists toward Sutter and the nearly three-years-long fight to keep the hospital operational still exist. A labor representative for the California Nurses Association, said the union “whole-heartedly” endorses Mahoney’s plan, but warned of interference from Sutter.

“It’s the only viable plan out there to maintain all the acute care services that are in place now and to maintain the 24/7 emergency room,” said Mike Brannan, “but there are obstacles in the way. Sutter Health is holding the hospital hostage. They don’t want to run it and they don’t want anyone else to run it. “

Mayor Cassidy, who has long been a supporter of San Leandro Hospital even before his campaign for office last year, reiterated his vision for the hospital. “I want San Leandro to be known as a hub of high-quality medical care in the East Bay,” he said. “If we have Kaiser and San Leandro Hospital we’re well on the way. It’s a win-win situation.” The sprawling Kaiser Permanente campus under construction on Merced Avenue is due to open in early 2014 and replaces its facility in Hayward.

Mahoney warned the potential loss of San Leando Hospital will led to a drain of private practitioners following its demise and forcing some patients to travel to outlying areas such as Castro Valley and Oakland for care. “If San Leandro Hospital were to close, you would probably not, in a very short period of time, have any private physicians practicing in San Leandro,” said Mahoney.

In response to a resident who described himself as a Kaiser patient and questioned how San Leandro Hospital benefits him, Mahoney said the community cannot absorb the nearly 28,000 annual emergency room visits to San Leandro Hospital without overrunning surrounding facilities, which are already frequently on diversion.

“There is a critical lack of capacity if you take this hospital out of service,” said Mahoney. “We need to look at a way for people who don’t have access to the Kaiser model to have access to care. There is still a need to look at the community in total.” He later added, “This is a plan that really is about growth, not consolidation or cutting back services.”