By Steven TavaresCASTRO VALLEY, Calif. - In a cramped, unadorned conference room tucked between a local watery hole and a nondescript sushi restaurant the Eden Township Board of Directors voted to block the planned purchase of San Leandro Hospital by Sutter Health.
The vote as with many stops and starts in this slow-moving process hardly gives supporters of keeping the community hospital open a clear vision of the road ahead, but may create more options in the near future.
"I'm happy that we will be able to look for more options to save the hospital," said state Sen. Ellen Corbett. "Like it told them, I believe they don't have all the information they need to make a decision."
Corbett and others alluded to a section of the health and safety code that limits the ability of a hospital provider to transfer the assets of more than 50 percent of a hospital without a voter referendum. In addition to calling for a vote on the sale of the hospital, Corbett urged the board to seek an independent auditor to examine Sutter's claim of losing over a half million dollars a month at the facility.
The hastily planned board meeting held at the district office across the street from Eden Medical Center forced over 50 attendees to cram into a small conference room and its adjoining reception area. Previous hearings in June drew hundreds of residents and dozens of speakers.
"Just the fact that we are having this meeting when you knew the public would be turning out we're in this tiny conference room with limited access." said Mike Brannan, a labor leader for the California Nurses Association, told the board. "I'm sure the board didn't want it to be that way, but that's the kind of manipulation that we've seen on this board and it's Sutter trying to control what happens." During a closed session midway through the hearing which lasted over an hour, attendees, including Corbett, were forced to stand outside in the breezy Castro Valley evening. "I'm irritated. This is disrespectful," said Brannan.
As with the board's vote against the Alameda County Medical Center's bid to move acute rehab care from Fairmont Hospital to San Leandro, Board member Dr. Vin Sawhney again steered the board towards approving Corbett's calls to action and had pointed remarks for Sutter and an agenda item that sought to approve minutes from discussions of the 2008 memorandum of understanding. Sawhney and Corbett both characterized the minutes as inaccurate. According to Sawhney he recollected speaking at the hearings yet found his remarks missing from the recently pieced together document.
Eden Township CEO Dev Mahadevan explained there was no evidence the minutes were ever presented to the board. The secretary at the time was able to recently create a version of the lost minutes from notes, he said, but the document were found to be rife with omissions.
"I'm very concerned how you can place minutes on the agenda two years after, with a board that is seated that is different from the board at the time," said Corbett. "I think it really impacts the authentication of those minutes."
Sawhney also raised the issue charged recently by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) that Sutter transferred over $120 million in profits since 1995 from Marin General Hospital without the knowledge of that area's health district. Critics of Sutter in San Leandro have questioned why the Sacramento-based health care provider is not able to subsidize losses at the hospital from the profits of more successful facilities. "This is the track record that Sutter has," said Sawhney. "I do not want to take the numbers they give us."