By Steven Tavares
@eastbaycitizen on twitter

A gathering in excess of 300 residents registered overwhelming support for the latest plan to save San Leandro Hospital. Not since a string of heavily-attended rallies nearly two years ago have hospital employees and residents met to voice concern over Sutter Health’s plan to shutter the facilities emergency room and services and lease it for acute rehabilitation.

Similar to those meetings, Tuesday night’s speakers set a near-unanimous tone of support for St. Rose CEO Michael Mahoney’s proposal to consolidate his hospital with San Leandro Hospital under the auspices of the Eden Township Healthcare District. Personal stories of emergencies quelled by their proximity to the hospital were sprinkled with defiant calls to stop Sutter along with congratulatory remarks lauding the community for keeping the hospital in full operation at least two years longer than expected.

“This hospital is open because of you,” Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett told the crowd. On separate occasions starting in the fall of 2009, Sutter had publicly called for the closing of the hospital before a change of direction at the Eden Township Healthcare District led to dueling lawsuits between it and Sutter. Many contend the deep opposition to Sutter’s proposal from residents gave the District’s Board of Directors a shot in the arm.

“They said the hospital would close by the following summer of 2009. What year is it now?” asked San Leandro resident and hospital activist Mia Ousley. “It’s now the summer of 2009 and this hospital is still open. You are the reason this hospital is still open.”

Mahoney acknowledged the pressing issue of replacing the acute rehabilitation beds possibly lost to the county in the event the St. Rose plan is accepted by Sutter will need to be dealt with in a timely manner. He also told nurses and hospital technicians that St. Rose will honor all existing labor contracts.

The meeting, attended by a who’s who of local elected officials, will go a long ways toward convincing Sutter to go along with the plan, even though most observers believe the hospital provider has amassed a great deal of legal leverage in the courts allowing it to proceed with purchasing San Leandro Hospital and leasing it to the Alameda County Medical Center.

“It will take everyone in this room and a lot of other people to make this happen,” said Mahoney of the community’s support. “We are just on the beginning of a long path, but if we do it together a year from now we’ll have a meeting to celebrate what we achieved in the next year going forward.”

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan may have previewed a new tact in attempting to cajole Sutter into cooperating when she briefly referred to Sutter’s considerable tax breaks derived from their non-profit status. Despite the exemption, Sutter still managed to earn nearly $800 million last year. “Tax breaks come with an obligation to provide charity care and to be good community partners,” said Chan. Afterwards, there was a sense indicating Chan’s remarks were appreciated among various union supporters, who have also levied the charge against Sutter in similar struggles in San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Marin.

Representatives from the California Nurses Association said they intend to keep this latest tide of community support from leveling off. Thousands of campaign-style placards and printed postcards addressed to Sutter CEO Pat Fry were distributed.

Not only were San Leandro residents of the health care district voicing support for maintaining and strengthening services Tuesday, but Hayward’s City Council also concurrently scheduled discussion of a resolution in support of the St. Rose plan.