May 3, 2012 | While the possible closing of San Leandro Hospital is now measured in weeks and months, rather than years, there remains optimism the facility and its workers still have options to stave off Sutter’s reported intent to file a 90-day notice with the county to shutter its emergency room

About 100 nurses and residents rallied Tuesday in the shadow of the hospital hoping to find a path forward as title to the facility from the Eden Township Healthcare District to Sutter is imminent. “I’m hoping rational minds at Sutter realize that there’s going to be a severe financial consequence to them and particular to the physicians there that have influence, will say, we have to come up with solution,” said San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy. “We have to keep acute care at San Leandro.”

The enmity among nurses toward Sutter was evident. Some of whom also picketed other Sutter hospitals in the Bay Area as part of a one-day strike in conjunction with other May Day protests. “How many hospital is Sutter going to close before they are stopped?” asked a San Leandro Hospital employee. “We’re not the first ones, are we the last?”

A registered nurse from Highland Hospital in Oakland, who lives in San Leandro said, “I’m hearing from Sutter that they think it’s okay to close San Leandro, because they can send the patients to Highland. I’m here to tell you that we have a 50-bed ER and we are full.”

Jeanette Dong, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan’s chief of staff said, “Sutter as a corporation is unfair, unjust and indecent” and recounts the supervisor’s dispute with Sutter dating back to her time in the State Assembly after Sutter’s purchase of Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. A legislative audit of Sutter’s non-profit status was first suggested last year by Chan and pursued by State Sen. Ellen Corbett. The report is due sometime in August or September, Dong said.

“The politicians are not going to stop this thing,” said Richard Mellor of San Leandro. “Only the ordinary people, the community, the workers involved, only they can stop this thing.” He later called for direct action to ridicule the personal involvement of some at Sutter, for instance, by handing out leaflets at their place of worship. “We let them know, you hurt us, we’ll hurt you,” Mellor said.

San Leandro resident Craig Williams advocated for less confrontation and more outreach. He suggested volunteers would do well to go door-to-door to explain the dire situation at the hospital and what it means to the community. “I can tell you people in San Leandro are scared–especially old people,” he said.

Perhaps the most uplifting moment of the hour-long discussion was the entrance of former Eden Township Healthcare District board member Dr. Vin Sawhney, who elicited a standing ovation. Sawhney, along with current board chair Carole Rogers, are two of the most ardent supporters of keeping the hospital open. He tried to impart some hope Tuesday afternoon.

“Wherever we are today,” said Sawhney, “our efforts have not gone in vain. This hospital would have been closed if they had their way in 2008. They would have walked away without any repercussions from anyone. We need to commend ourselves as a community.” He added the facility has been open far beyond Sutter’s expectation to close it as early as September 2009.

“It’s still not the end,” he said despite the District losing its lawsuit. He believes Sutter is intent on closing the hospital as soon as they received title, however, there are other available avenues that surround a potential 90-day notice Sutter must file with Alameda County Healthcare Services.

Sawhney says approval is not automatic. Alex Briscoe, the director of Alameda County Healthcare Services would still need to run data-based analysis identifying where 27,000 annual emergency room visits at San Leandro Hospital could be absorbed by the county, Sawhney said. “It has to be not based on what he thinks, it has to be based on data,” Sawhney said. Once a determination is made, he added, the matter would still go before the Alameda County Board of Supervisors for approval, which he urged the throng to inundate with support for the hospital.

Such a scenario could become a nightmare for a board that only three years ago brushed aside jurisdiction over the hospital’s future, but could now become another battleground for fate of San Leandro Hospital later this year, although, final say ultimately rest with the California Department of Health Services.

NOTE: An addition was made to this article for clarification. While the county must provide an estimation of the impacts of a closure or downgrade to emergency room services by a licensee, the final approval rest with the California Department of Health Services.