HEALTH CARE | Sutter Health’s long-held intention to shut down San Leandro Hospital will not happen this year, says the director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, but as early as spring 2014.

The reason for the delay, says Alex Briscoe, is not due to Sutter’s indecision over shuttering the hospital and its much-needed emergency room, but because of the timing of a crucial assessment report compiled by the county and presented to the state Dept of Health Services that will highlight any impacts the closure of San Leandro Hospital will have on the region’s health care delivery system.

“That report will look better for Sutter when Kaiser San Leandro numbers are added,” says Briscoe, referring to the new Kaiser Permanente hospital currently in construction in San Leandro near Marina Boulevard and due to open sometime in the first quarter of 2014.

Without the presence of Kaiser San Leandro in the report, says Briscoe, the area’s emergency medical services and general acute care statistics might shed questions about the impact of closing an emergency room also within a hospital already seismically safe.

An impact assessment report would not be prepared until triggered by Sutter officially announcing its intent to close San Leandro Hospital and due to the state within 60-90 days, says Briscoe. The contents of such report would also come before the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, which could become the last bright flashpoint for community leaders and supporters of keeping the facility open to express their views.

Such a report, however, would not so much delve into questions of whether new hospitals, such as Sutter’s Castro Valley facility and Kaiser’s San Leandro building, have smaller capacities for emergency room beds, says Briscoe, citing an industry-wide move towards shorter stays. Aside from the business aspect of maintaining efficiency, the smaller number of beds, however, will impact the county greatly in the face of a natural disaster. “In terms of disaster preparedness, the county is already short on ER beds,” said Briscoe. It is another reason, he says, why the county greatly focused on propping up operations at Hayward’s St. Rose Hospital with subsidies over the past year.

Stacey Wells, Sutter Health’s spokesperson, said Thursday, “We understand process and capacity issues. As Alex well knows from our discussions with him, we share his concerns, which is why we are looking at all options.”

Regarding, the collapse of a plan put forth by the Alameda County Medical Center to take over San Leandro Hospital and operate it in its current form as an acute general care facility with round-the-clock ER services with $3 million subsidies from three different government bodies, Briscoe says he is flummoxed by Sutter’s disinterest.

“For reasons I don’t understand, they didn’t accept it,” he says of Sutter, and adding the ACMC was the only viable option for the ER at San Leandro Hospital. “They are largely concerned with general acute care at San Leandro and that it could negatively impact Sutter Castro Valley.”

Briscoe says he doesn’t agree with the assessment for many reasons, chief among them, that the new Sutter Castro Valley (formerly Eden Hospital) will not draw from the same pool of patients as San Leandro Hospital, which feature a high number of people with Medicare and the uninsured.

Sutter, however, has never publicly admitted having competition in San Leandro while its constructs its $320 million facility in Castro Valley is the reason for its intention to close San Leandro Hospital. Instead, it has long maintained the hospital, which it purchased from the Eden Township Healthcare District last year, is losing money.

If all goes as planned for Sutter, San Leandro Hospital will not lay idle, but continue as an acute rehabilitation facility. It is plan once backed by county as late as 2010 to cure a lack of rehab beds following the closing of the seismically-deficient Fairmont Hospital.