It’s Now Or Never For San Leandro Hospital

Feb. 9, 2012 | Sutter Health is operating in the shadows again.

When San Leandro Councilman Michael Gregory inadvertently used the word “settlement” during last Monday’s city council while updating the situation with San Leandro Hospital and its imminent closure by Sutter Health, he undermined the hospital behemoths desire to maneuver in secret negotiations.

When it comes to public issues, clandestine talks are never in the community’s best interests. Never. Sutter and the attorney’s for the Eden Township Healthcare District have been talking settlement over the past few weeks. Sutter receives title to San Leandro Hospital, the District pays no damages. The facility maintains a semblance of an emergency room and the Alameda County Medical Center runs the acute rehabilitation facility.

Yet, like the Death Star or any other cinematic monster causing havoc on humanity, Sutter clearly has a soft underbelly and that is an institutional aversion to even the smallest amount of bad publicity

In a nutshell: it’s the deal Sutter wanted from the very beginning–no less. It’s also a deal that renders everything done by supporters of the Save San Leandro Hospital cause as one colossal waste of the last two years.

To blame the board of the Eden Township Healthcare District would be incorrect. They are merely running out of ammunition against an adversary that undermined the direction of the previous board to such depths that no amount of legal expertise could have gotten them out of this hole. Sutter’s lawyers are good and they have always been good. They also have at their disposal a tried-and-true legal strategy for closing down their competition in other parts of Northern California. It worked in Marin County, just as it did the trick in San Francisco and Santa Rosa.

Yet, like the Death Star or any other cinematic monster causing havoc on humanity, Sutter clearly has a soft underbelly and that is an institutional aversion to even the smallest amount of bad publicity.

In the case of San Leandro Hospital there is absolutely no doubt the reason we are still talking about this situation nearly three years later is due to the outpouring of unified public sentiment and hard work to keep their hospital and its emergency room open indefinitely.

Sutter is deeply afraid of public meetings like the one that occurred Wednesday night and featuring a few hundred residents. If the District’s calls for a gathering of the faithful they can be counted on to fill the hall. That clarion call, though, has not been happening enough lately. The relative calm coupled with the winding down of the District’s legal avenues is a situation ripe for Sutter to impose its will quickly and without regard for the human element of its actions.

There was private talk last night about reaching out to members of the Occupy Oakland movement. One person I spoke with said labor leaders have discussed such an strategy. The San Leandro Hospital issue and the Occupy Oakland struggle have an enormous link: strong support from the California Nurses Association. We must remember that this story is also a labor issue. Not only will people’s emergency care be compromised, but hundreds of health care workers will be out of a job. A representative from CNA last night urged the District board to make the negotiations with Sutter public and allow a the community a seat at the table.

If the Occupy Oakland movement are willing to support union workers last month at a licorice factory in Union City, there assuredly would be more than happy to support what is one of the pillars of financial inequity in this country: the lack of health care for all. In light of recent bad press, Occupy Oakland may actually need Save San Leandro Hospital more than you need them.

Although the District cannot seem to get the narrative of San Leandro Hospital pitch perfect, it is actually very simple. A non-profit health care provider with over $800 million in profit seeks to close a competing community hospital that specializes in providing care for the uninsured and poorest among us. That’s the story and you don’t even need to mention out of that $800 million, most county officials say a yearly subsidy of only $6 million is needed to keep the facility in operation.

The end of the line is clearly within sight, but no amount of Sutter’s political and financial power works when the overwhelming pressure of the people is brandished. It worked before and it can work again. The only difference is the community has no reason now to save resources. It’s time to empty the playbook. Summon Occupy Oakland and their righteous revolutionaries to support your already impressive community leaders and put Sutter’s practices again in the spotlight and watch them scurry under the rocks.