Eden Healthcare District Mulls Appeal To State Supreme Court

Jan. 4, 2012 | Members of the Eden Township Healthcare District will meet in closed session Wednesday night to grapple with how it will proceed with its legal fight with Sutter Health.

The five-member elected board called the special session last week. The agenda posted details only sparse information listing a discussion on the legal case with Sutter. Sources, though, say the board will decide on whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court or seek other legal or political avenues.

A state appellate court decided last month against the District in its case citing a conflict of interests by a former board member and chief executive offer who negotiated the 2008 agreement offering to rebuild Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and allowing San Leandro Hospital two years to become economically viable.

The possibility the District board will favor presenting the case to the state Supreme Court is likely. A look inside the makeup of the board still represents a majority vote in favor of fighting Sutter despite the costs and political capital. Chair Carole Rogers, Dr. Vin Sawhney and Les Friedman have shown to be willing to take on Sutter in the courts. A fourth board member, Dr. William West, has also consistently participated in the voting bloc, but his support, sources say, has recently grown tepid. Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar is the lone remaining member who tends to side more conservatively with Sutter.

The possibility of taking the fight to save San Leandro Hospital to the supreme court was broached as soon as the appellate court rendered its decision Dec. 21.
Mike Brannan, a labor representative for the California Nurses Association, said the union would support the District if it chooses to goes the supreme court route. “Despite the court’s ruling, we still believe there are legal grounds for a conflict of interest,” Brannan said last month.

Any appeal to the high court would likely revolve around Government Code 1098 which, among other things, forbids elected officials from participating in negotiations that could potentially enrich their own finances.

During a hearing before the state appellate court Nov. 2, the three-judge body in its questioning, appeared to tiptoe around the argument of whether health care district inherently possess conflicts of interest. In its decision a month letter, the court again sidestepped the overriding question. The omission may be the basis for an argument before the high court.

Deciding to attempt an appeal to the supreme court, if accepted, would also have the side benefit of maintaining operations running at San Leandro Hospital for another year. It was this gambit, some supporters of the hospital contend, that has successful kept the door open for two additional years.

Sutter had proposed to close the facility in late 2009 before the District voted to sue in a dispute over the title of San Leandro Hospital. The District has been a loser on the question on three occasions–once before an arbitrator, in the Alameda County Superior Court and last month at the state appellate level.