Sutter Health Feels Like It Was Attacked, Says County Official

Mar. 29, 2012 | San Leandro Vice Mayor Michael Gregory says Sutter Health is willing to come back to the negotiating table in the dispute over San Leandro Hospital “if they can come out of this honorably.”

Gregory made the comment last Tuesday during a special ad hoc committee formed to analyze the situation with the hospital along with the general state of health care in the city.

“Is there a chance we can get Sutter to talk?” Gregory asked Alex Briscoe, the director of Alameda County Healthcare Services.

“Because of the litigation,” answered Briscoe, “it is impossible to gauge Sutter’s willingness to engage in the community process because they are understandably defending their own interests and because of the lawsuit it is impossible to determine what their willingness will be.”

The recent detachment of San Leandro Hospital from the solution to also save St. Rose Hospital in Hayward suggests the issue of the facility’s murky future again rests within the bounds of long discussed, but unpopular proposal to lease it through Sutter to the Alameda County Medical Center for acute rehabilitation services without an emergency room.

For this scenario to rise to the forefront, Sutter would need to fully prevail in their lawsuit with the Eden Township Healthcare District over title to San Leandro Hospital. Sounding a bit apprehensive, Briscoe said, “I still have to believe that once the lawsuit is negotiated, there will be an opportunity for us to sit down with Sutter and negotiate something in the best interests of San Leandro and Sutter—I have to be believe that.”

The catch, though, is Sutter has shown no inclination to enter meaningful talks with the county since the District’s board of directors filed suit against the health care provider in 2009, Briscoe said. Sutter’s business with the county is much larger and successful than just San Leandro Hospital, Briscoe added.

But, those ties have been frayed by constant legal wrangling on the periphery with a few of the more aggressive opponents of Sutter on the Eden Township board, notably Chair Carole Rogers. Members of that board were invited by the city to address the ad hoc committe last Tuesday, but citing advice from legal counsel, declined to attend.

“In many ways they are a responsible partner,” Briscoe said of Sutter. “I think it’s too easy to vilify individuals here and say these are bad people. I actually don’t believe that. I believe this is a corporation protecting its interests. It feels it has been attacked and it’s difficult to have authentic negotiation while under the threat of litigation.”

In the meatime, the District and the community awaits a decision by the California State Supreme Court over a petition to hear the case alleging the pivotal 2008 memorandum of understanding between it and Sutter is invalid over conflict of interests by two former members of the District’s board.

The District has been unsuccessful in two lower courts in the past year. Even if the case is accepted by the high court and ruled in the District’s favor, county official say, the big question of who runs San Leandro Hospital going forward will still need to be determined.