EAST BAY CITIZEN. EVERYWHERE SINCE 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

Effectiveness of Local Pols has been Hit and Miss

>>>THE POLITICIANS<<<

STATE SEN. ELLEN CORBETT The former assemblywowan and mayor of San Leandro is widely regarded as the most high profile politician on this issue and the go-to person powerful enough to counter Sutter's corporate power. Critics will note the absence of any political solution with dollars attached, but Corbett's move along with 13 other local pols to reach out to the attorney general's office is the most significant gambit against
Sutter to date. The AG is currently looking into launching an official investigation into Sutter's alleged pattern of wrongful business dealings at its Northern California hospitals. A bill that would lengthen the time a hospital provider must give notice of closing a hospital from 90 to 120 days currently sits on Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk. In addition, Corbett is the leading proponent of forcing the issue of San Leandro Hospital to a vote under a state health and safety code which says a health care district may not sell assets worth more than half of its holdings without a vote of the people. QUOTABLE "[Sutter] has a tax break because they are suppose to be serving the people who are the most needy. That's why we are starting to ask people what is really happening?"

ASSEMBLYWOMAN MARY HAYASHI The two-term assemblywoman has been notably absent from the issue in recent months. Known as one of the most petulant politicians in the East Bay, Hayashi was active on the issue as earlier this spring, but seemed to lose interest after an odd blow-up with Sen. Corbett in June. Dueling terse press releases highlighted Hayashi's deciding no vote in committee. Hayashi co-sponsored the bill with Corbett raising eyebrows as to why she torpedoed her own piece of legislation. At the time she called it a good bill that needed work. The incident between two Democrats working on the same local issue still confuses many officials around town. Many believe Hayashi is girding up for a Titanic tilt for Corbett's senate seat. Her only public statement on this issue came in June when she sent a representative to play a pre-recorded speech. Her rep told the large gathering at the San Leandro Library the assemblywoman could not attend because of budget crisis in Sacramento, even though Corbett was sitting at the back of the room. QUOTABLE "Saving San Leandro Hospital is my top priority." Watch the video here.

MAYOR TONY SANTOS Aside from the health of potential patients in the community, no one has more at stake by San Leandro Hospital closing than Santos, yet many believe he has shown indifference over the issue. A hearing does not pass without one resident criticizing the mayor's lack of involvemnet. He has repeatedly called the issue out of his control, but says he has been dealing with the problem for over two years—way before anyone else--he will add. Numerous insiders, brand the mayor as being pro-Sutter in his talking points when he says Sutter, as a business, has no obligation to subsidize a money-losing hospital and charging doctors with hastening San Leandro's financial demise by outsourcing procedures and tests to outside vendors. Being seen at the July 1 groundbreaking of Sutter's new hospital in Castro Valley hardened that perception. If the mayor, indeed, tended to lean towards Sutter in the past, the future may be different. Sutter officials were reportedly livid over Santos' comments in The Citizen when he said the hospital would stay open because of pandemic concerns until the end of January 2010. Political wisdom says the longer the hospital's fate is up in the air come the June mayoral primary, the easier opponents will be able to pin the loss of a public asset on him. QUOTABLE "They have private practices and I hope they try to do things for the common good, but many send their patients to facilities other than San Leandro Hospital."

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL The six-member council has primarily been the punching bag of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, while offering very little pushback. Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley have both viciously excoriated the group for offering, what they contend, is no leadership on the issue. Haggerty even infamously crumpled a letter from the council during a meeting and threw it into a trash can calling it a “piece of crap.” Like Mayor Santos, the majority of the council believe the issue belongs under the jurisdiction of the county, not the city since a majority of the patients at San Leandro Hospital arrive from Oakland and other cities. Councilman Jim Prola has been the loudest voice consistently charging Sutter with medical redlining and saying he does not trust them. Councilman Michael Gregory, whose district the hospital resides in, faces re-election in 2010. Gregory was one of the earliest politicians putting out the clarion call for action to save the hospital when he organized a series of town hall meetings on the subject in May, but has been absent since. Despite certain vulnerability, no candidate has emerged to challenge him next year. The rest of the council has been virtually mute on the hospital with some rarely attending public meetings. The most notable wallflower is Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak, who will run against Santos next year. Sources say Starosciak's strong support of Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi will dictate her agenda (Hayashi has been quiet on the hospital) with Sutter and the hospital. The Santos/Sutter brouhaha and Hayashi/Starosciak duo may link the mayor's race and the fate of the hospital in an unlikely way. QUOTABLE "[Former Director of the Alameda County Health Services] Dave Kears is trying to shift responsibility on to us," said Prola, "I believe it's the county's responsibility not just San Leandro's because only a third of our residents use the hospital."

SUPERVISOR ALICE LAI-BITKER If one politician is stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place it's Lai-Bitker. She has consistently juggled the agenda of the county with her conscience to varied results. Many of her proposals have misfired including announcing to great fanfare in June her intention to have the county rescind its offer to the Alameda County Medical Center to move rehabilitation services to San Leandro Hospital as the prospect of another health care vendor briefly arose. Nothing came of the action, when a decisive third vote on the board of supervisors could not be cajoled out of Supervisor Keith Carson. Although her plan to create a hybrid hospital of emergency room services, surgery and rehab facilities at San Leandro Hospital is still kicked around, it is now viewed as the best case scenario if all else fails. Lai-Bitker's bipartisan proposals stem from an aversion to having the county possibly having a shuttered hospital in San Leandro without a tenant if Sutter and the Alameda County Medical Center walk away. There is a school of thought that Lai-Bitker, whose mother passed away last week, will find a second wind in saving the hospital after facing first-hand the real life stakes losing a hospital has on patients and survivors. QUOTABLE "[The Board of Supervisors] came in because there was no other option, so now there is an option,” she said of an offer from a Southern California company to purchase the hospital, “The directors deserve to have the process go through and explore and evaluate whether it's a viable option.”

REP. PETE STARK Where's Pete? The long time practicioner of liberal East Bay politics has certainly been busy on the national stage as he tries to enact universal health care, but without question he's been absent on this health care issue. You can try asking him his thoughts, but you won't get an answer from him or his people. While Fremont's Nummi and its 4,700 autoworkers stood on the chopping block, Stark and others were there, yet an equally distressing situation where over 1,000 people could die annually due to the loss of a key emergency room, the congressmen is silent. Many note that local health care is typically a state issue, but with Federal stimulus dollars floating in the wind, the stated $4-7 million subsidy for San Leandro Hospital is a mere pittance. Cynics will say you cannot obtain Stark's chairmanship on the Ways and Means Health Committee without sizable support from the health care lobby QUOTABLE No comment.
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>>>NEXT: Everything Thing You Need To Know About Saving San Leandro Hospital
We look at the players at the Eden Township Healthcare District.

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