By Steven Tavares
@eastbaycitizen on twitter

Former Eden Township
Director Suzanne Barba

Two years ago, Dr. Miles Adler infamously called out some members of the San Leandro City Council for failing to attend a similar meeting to Tuesday’s town hall on the the future of San Leandro. “It is very disappointing when one thinks there are five city council people who don’t think it’s important enough to come to a forum of this nature with their own constituents sitting in the audience,” an annoyed Adler said.

Tuesday night Adler was seen glancing at photographs of the current mayor and city council at the new Senior Community Center. Did you see all of these people at the meeting tonight, I asked? He said not all of them, but those not there made sure they sent to their support. “It’s a lot better with this mayor,” he added. Possibly mindful of the political embarrassment of skipping a meeting of such importance to the community, the much-anticipated town hall on St. Rose CEO Michael Mahoney’s ambitious plan to save San Leandro Hospital attracted a large number of local politicians to a jam-packed Senior Community Center.

The meeting organized by the Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy and the Eden Township Healthcare District saw elected leaders from across Alameda County. Some even had little to do with the issue. What does EBMUD have to do with healthcare? Who knows? At least one of its directors, Frank Mellon cares. Many leaders though did not attend, although most sent representatives to report the night’s events. One member of the audience, though, sat silently and somewhat anonymous among the consistent support for the saving San Leandro Hospital despite being one of the people most culpable for the healthcare district being so thoroughly hamstrung by heft of Sutter Health’s dominance over the issue.

With a short flop of white hair resting across her head and the meat of her jowls seemingly incapable of expression, former Eden Township director Suzanne Barba walked towards the exits. Critics of her 16 years on the board say she walked out on the community long ago when her and former members skirted their decades-old mission to run hospitals in the region by allowing Sutter Health to slowly gobble up their facilities in Castro Vallley and San Leandro.

For her, attending the town hall is somewhat like the predilections of some who return to the scene of the crime. After all, the new senior center is just a stones throw away from San Leandro Hospital. From her election to the board in 1990, Barba was at the helm when Sutter was invited to Eden Hospital in 1998. The slow creep over the next decade ultimately set the groundwork for Sutter cornering the board into accepting a poor agreement ultimately trading the fate of San Leandro Hospital for a rebuilt Eden.

During a hearing on the St. Rose plan later that night in Hayward, Councilman Bill Quirk also made reference to former members of the board who seemingly fell asleep at the wheel, although he did not mention any names. “It is incumbent on everyone in the community to get good people to run for that board,” he said. “I think we got into this trouble because the people who were on the board at the time Sutter came in–they had just been there awhile and I think they just lost sight of what was going on.” The point is well taken since among the current board standing resolute against Sutter, only board member Dr. Vin Sawhney appears likely to be around far past whichever deal is brokered for San Leandro Hospital.

Despite her attendance Tuesday night, Barba showed very little compassion for the community in a November 2009 interview when she mocked their plight. “And, you know, poor San Leandro,” she said dismissively, “they are going to have a beautiful Kaiser there and I don’t think people realize you can go to the emergency room at Kaiser even if you’re not a member–it’s state law.”

She went on to trumpet Sutter talking points very familiar to followers of the Save San Leandro Hospital contingent. For instance, no money-losing business should be allowed to survive, the push to save the hospital would force Sutter to drop plans to rebuild Eden and acute rehabilitation is more important to the county than an emergency room. Those points have largely been abandoned since, well, they are untrue. Another former director, Dr. Frank Rico, some noted was not at the town hall. The reason? The garrulous Papa John was sitting in the front row, presumably ready to rumble with his well-known adversary.