Monday, September 28, 2009

Effort to Recall Eden Board Member is Brewing


The Citizen
If you can't get someone to do what you want, just find another who will. At least that's the sentiment expressed by a few San Leandro residents who figure if they cannot get their elected leaders in the health care district to hear their demands to keep their hospital functioning, then they will just ask voters to recall them.

Rumors of recalling Eden Township Healthcare District Chair Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar have been circulating for weeks and came to light last week as fellow Director Carole Rogers and state Sen. Ellen Corbett discussed its pros and cons to a gathering of doctors and nurses in Castro Valley.

Members of various groups representing doctors and nurses at San Leandro Hospital have long charged Ratnesar with a conflict of interest for his role in the 2004 agreement between Sutter and the District that effectively offered up San Leandro Hospital's demise in return for a rebuilt Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. Ratnesar's presence on the contentious 2007 Memorandum of Understanding as an employee of Sutter Health has also been a point of suspicion for many opponents of the possible closing of the hospital.

While proponents of a recall effort against Ratnesar are convinced of his alleged indiscretion, what it would accomplish in terms of saving San Leandro Hospital in the near term is unclear.

"It would be a shot across the bow of Sutter that would speak volumes," said San Leandro vascular surgeon Dr. Robert Gingery.

According to the California Secretary of State's office, the recall effort to unseat Ratnesar would need to accumulate the signatures of over 10,000 registered voters in the health care district. Proponents says the amount of people and the work involved in a short time frame is possible. "You would get enough signatures that you wouldn't know what to do with," joked Gingery.

Corbett, while agreeing with the benefits of a recall, urged caution in using short-term resources to keep the hospital open for a recall election that would likely take place next spring or during the June primary season and questioned if the remaining board members would have the authority to appoint a successor in lieu of running another candidate for the board concurrent with the recall.

District health care officers were recalled in Marin in the 1990s dealing with similar conflict of interests allegations that involved Sutter's earlier involvement with Marin General Hospital. While two board member were successfully recalled, the downside to any movement to remove an officer is the likelihood forces in the opposition of the recall may be able to offer up their own replacement candidate at great cost. No names have been attached to any election of a new director should Ratnesar be successfully removed.

Rogers said the threat of recalling Ratnesar could possibly embarrass him into resigning before the full force of a recall gains traction. "It don't think he would want to hear his name attached to any recall or having his name in the papers," Rogers said.

Brian Tseng of the Physicians Organizing Committee also believes in the power of the community speaking out against the board with the machinations of a recall hovering over the board. "When you have this huge community saying you've got this massive conflict of interest, possible civil and criminal violations of the law--stealing a hospital--that's a conflict of interest when you have a board member in the pay of a corporation that is going to benefit with the closing of another hospital," he said.

Time is of the essence for any recall. Opponents of Ratnesar would have 160 days to collect the requisite number of signatures leading to a vote no longer than 125 days afterwards. Such a vote would likely not occur until June when it is unclear what the political landscape of the city, county and San Leandro Hospital will look like.

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