EDEN DISTRICT BOARD VOTES TO FIRE LEGAL COUNSEL, 3-2....THREE FORMER BOARDMEMBERS FAIL TO SWAY DIRECTORS....RATNESAR ON HOSPITAL: 'IT WILL GO DOWN IN FLAMES'.....CRITICS SAY FIRING PUTS NEGOTIATIONS WITH SUTTER AT RISK....ALSO SAY HOSPITAL COULD BE CLOSED JULY 1
By STEVEN TAVARESHAYWARD, Calif. - A few members of the Eden Township Healthcare District added a new attorney to their Christmas wish list Monday night with the firing of its legal counsel. Critics, including Mayor Tony Santos and District Chair Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar, say the move puts the future of San Leandro Hospital at risk of closure July 1.
Directors Dr. Vin Sawhney, Dr. Bill West and Carole Rogers voted to replace long-time District lawyer Craig Cannizzo. The board appointed current co-counsel Colin Coffey of Archer Norris to interim general counsel. Coffey is said to be familiar with Sutter in the courtroom. Archer Norris also represents Marin General Hospital in its legal disputes with the Sacramento-based conglomerate.
It was the second such attempt to fire Cannizzo in less than a week. West switched his vote from last week, while Dr. Harry Dvorsky and Ratnesar maintained their dissent. Afterwards, Ratnesar said he fears the hospital will "go down in flames."
In addition to the move, the board approved the formation of a search committee to review a possible replacement and named Rogers, West, San Leandro City Councilman Michael Gregory and Lester Friedman, an attorney who previously sought to replace the departed Dr. Walter Kran on the board last month.
Earlier in the day, The Citizen reported disenchantment over the possibility of Cannizzo's removal from San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos. He believes significant movement made during the past three days regarding the "hybrid model" will be jeopardized by the firing. Ratnesar also agreed with the statement.
"I think we are in a crucial stage at this point," said Ratnesar. "Mr. Cannizzo, after last week's meeting, has made an attempt to get the discussion going with the hybrid option and there has been significant movement on that and I fear, if Mr. Cannizzo is taken off this, the whole thing will collapse."
When Ratnesar was asked Monday night if the firing of Cannizzo has killed the proposal he said, "This is what has happened" and said he fears a protracted legal fight could destroy the District's finances.
Sawhney also mentioned the possibility of Prime Health entering the picture after July 1. The Southern California-based health provider briefly entered the equation in June. Numerous sources say Sutter has no intention of ever allowing a competitor operate San Leandro Hospital just miles away from its $320 million soon-to-be remodeled Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. "It is a disputed lease," said Sawhney. "They can leave the same as someone else can come in."
The veracity of any deal between Sutter, the county and the District involving a hybrid facility was downplayed by Sawhney as a plan bandied about for over year without any success. "[Alameda County Supervisor] Alice Lai-Bitker tried it--it didn't go far. Ellen Corbett had a meeting. I met with multiple parties including the county, Alex Briscoe and political powers to look at that and it didn't go anywhere," said Sawhney. "Sutter has not indicated whatsoever, in any way, that they will be supportive of it."
Three former District boardmembers publicly spoke on behalf of Cannizzo to no avail. Dr. Francisco Rico defended Cannizzo's brusque personality saying, "Your best friend can be your best critic" and warned the group to be wary of any other law firms with financial incentive to gain representation. Dr. Walter Kran, whose resignation in September likely set the stage for Monday's actions, said Cannizzo "knows the details that we're not aware of." Another District alum Suzanne Barba said Cannizzo "has always had the District's back."
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"Sutter can virtually wipe the entire District out," Ratnesar said, but not everyone sees the firing in a negative light.
Sawhney expressed he was content with the board's decision saying, "I personally have a very positive outlook that the hospital will be around and the community needs it,"he said.
There is also dispute, according to Sawhney, absent a settlement between Sutter and the District over the ownership of San Leandro Hospital, that the facility will shutdown July 1. "The property is in dispute. Without title to the property, they really can't close it," Sawhney said. "The issue would be they can walk away as of July 1, but that does not mean the hospital is closed."