Mar. 27, 2012 | Just as arrangements are being made to prop the struggling St. Rose Hospital in Hayward, the director of county health care services says San Leandro Hospital can be rescued in some form regardless of the outcome of the Eden Township District’s lawsuit against Sutter Health.

“We need to ensure we have a path to sustain San Leandro Hospital regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit.” said Alex Briscoe, the director of Healthcare Services for Alameda County. “I think there are strategies that work, no matter who wins the litigation, to sustain the hospital.”

Just what those plans might entail are less clear, though. Briscoe spoke Tuesday afternoon before an ad hoc committee formed last month by the San Leandro City Council to open a dialogue over the future of San Leandro Hospital and health care in general. Although, the facility rests in San Leandro, city officials have long held of curious outsider’s vantage point in saving their own hospital’s emergency room and other services. With time running out on a petition for the State Supreme Court to hear the District’s lawsuit against Sutter, the city is taking a more proactive stance in compiling new information, however scant they may be at this point.

“My concern is how we as a city can actually make some ground with this situation and what can we do as a community to have any say,” said Councilwoman Ursula Reed, who along with Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Councilman Michael Gregory, sit on the special ad hoc committee. “We have not really been let in just because we’re not in that group, but it affects us directly.”

“We can’t lose San Leandro Hospital,” added Briscoe. “It doesn’t make sense from a 911 perspective or an access to care prospective. It’s hard to lose a hospital period and we can’t afford to lose another one.”

While plans to keep St. Rose functioning by way of Fremont’s Washington Township Healthcare District, a future path for San Leandro Hospital is far more murky. Briscoe said a potential way in the near term may lie within a partnership with the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC) and a vision of consolidating the bulk of the East Bay’s roster of debilitated private stand-alone hospitals.

The possible reintroduction of the medical center to the San Leandro Hospital equation is likely to be met with skepticism. It was ACMC that rankled the community in 2009 when it entered into a controversial lease with Sutter Health to operate the potentially reconfigured facility featuring acute rehabilitation services, but no emergency room. From the perspective of the community, Sutter did not yet own title to the hospital before attempting to lease it to another entity. The dispute over title is the subject of the long-running lawsuit between the District and Sutter.

Briscoe admits ACMC erred in their handling of the situation, but said the community would do well to again vet what the medical center may have to offer. “I think it would be fascinating for [ACMC CEO] Wright Lassiter to come here,” said Briscoe. “Hear what their plans might be and not have it be perceived as them being the hand maiden of Sutter. I believe the medical center made some significant mistakes strategically in aligning themselves with Sutter and doing some things that made it appear they were going to stand up for Sutter.”

Briscoe also said previously statements made by hospital supporters about the medical center’s business practices charging it does not accept private insurance and shuts out private physicians from its facilities are “patently false and should debunked every time it is brought up.” Regardless, somewhere down the line the future of health care in Alameda County may feature consolidation on a broad scale, Briscoe said.

“What we are doing with St. Rose and Washington Hospital, that’s just the beginning,” Briscoe said. “We have to create a public network. Unless those health care systems converge, create an internal economy and benefit from each others operating efficiencies, they will not survive in a post-reform economy.”

The state supreme court’s decision over whether to accept the District’s petition to rule over the issue of San Leandro Hospital could come at any time in the next two months. Cassidy also said board members from the Eden Township Healthcare District were invited to attend Tuesday’s meeting, but were advised by counsel not to attend.