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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sutter Signs Lease with Alameda County Medical Center

SUTTER ATTEMPTS TO RAM DEAL THROUGH DESPITE BOARD ACTION
ALAMEDA COUNTY MEDICAL CENTER CEO ANNOUNCES SIGNING OF LEASE WITH SUTTER TO MOVE ACUTE REHAB TO SAN LEANDRO HOSPITAL.....LETTER SAYS E.R. AT SLH WILL BE CLOSED.....SUTTER SIGNED DEAL WITH ACMC AUG. 3......COMES DAY AFTER EDEN TOWNSHIP BOARD VOTES AGAINST SUTTER'S PURCHASE OPTION.....BOARD MEMBER DR. SAWHNEY: "I DON'T BELIEVE THE DISTRICT HAS NO RIGHTS."

By Steven Tavares
The Citizen
A day after the Eden Township Healthcare District board told Sutter Health they would not accept their bid to purchase San Leandro Hospital, the Alameda County Medical Center announced it had already negotiated a deal with the rebuffed health provider to lease the hospital as an acute rehabilitation facility.

According to a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC) says it hopes to begin operations of the hospital without emergency room services beginning in early 2010.

“Alameda County Medical Center is pleased that this agreement will allow San Leandro Hospital to remain open and continue to serve residents in the surrounding communities, ensuring local residents have access to quality, affordable health care," said Wright Lassiter III, Chief Executive Officer of Alameda County Medical Center, "something that many in the communities we serve desperately need.”

In fact, most in San Leandro have waged a concerted effort to stop the plan to move rehab services from the seismically-deficient Fairmont Hospital to San Leandro. Doctors, nurses and hundreds of residents turned out for a series of hearings in late June voicing overwhelming opposition for the plan Sutter and ACMC now hope to resuscitate.

"Sutter believes they have the right to buy. That's their perspective," said Eden Township Board Member Dr. Vin Sawhney. "I don't believe the district has no rights. But, that's what they are claiming by signing this lease." Phone calls to both ACMC and Sutter were not returned.

A separate internal letter also sent Wednesday afternoon by ACMC to stakeholders reveals more insight into the lease agreement. Sutter and ACMC reached the lease agreement Aug. 3, less than a week after notifying the District of its intention to exercise its option to purchase.

The Eden Township Board of Directors were not aware of the transaction until recently according to Sawhney. Knowledge of the deal was the impetus for the motion brought forth by Sawhney and approved allowing the District to hire a second opinion lawyer to explore legal strategies to keep the hospital and emergency room open.

The letter continues to lay out San Leandro Hospital's possible future. "Our current plan is to operate San Leandro Hospital as an acute physical rehabilitation and urgent care facility and we are committed to exploring with community physicians the feasibility of continuing outpatient surgical and diagnostic procedures."

The plan is identical to the original blueprint created by Alameda County Health Services earlier this year which triggered numerous town hall meetings in San Leandro, sign-waving protesters at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors chambers and overflow crowds at the San Leandro Library and received the scrutiny of the area's elected officials in Sacramento.

The surprising announcement leaves the quest to save San Leandro Hospital at a crossroads. There is question as to whether the vote to block the purchase of the hospital by the District Tuesday night has legal merit under the memorandum of understanding signed last year. There is also uncertainty whether the health and safety code cited by state Sen. Ellen Corbett calling for a voter referendum when over 50 percent of a health district assets are transferred actually reaches that threshold.

Some believe the best possible strategy to keep hospital services intact entails suing Sutter for breach of contract. Under 2008 memorandum of understanding, Sutter agreed to remodel two floors of San Leandro Hospital for rehab services which have not be satisfied. As reported earlier, though, legal counsel for the Alameda County Health Services believes such a lawsuit does not have merit.

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