Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fourth Eden Member has Conflict

The Citizen 

THE DISTRICT v. SUTTERYou can add Carole Rogers to the list of Eden Township Healthcare District boardmembers with a conflict of interest. The chair of the board joins Dr. Vin Sawhney, Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar and Dr. Bill West as directors the District's lawyers deem to have financial interests in different parts of its dealings with Sutter Health, Eden Medical Center and the Alameda County Medical Center.

The latest instance of a conflict of interest revolves around Rogers' employment as a registered nurse for ACMC. Lawyers for the District her employment precludes her from involvement in negotiating any possible deal involving ACMC. After exercising its option to purchase San Leandro Hospital last summer, Sutter quickly leased the facility to ACMC to convert it into an acute rehabilitation center, thereby, closing the emergency room, among other services.

According to a letter sent to the board by Eden Township Healthcare District CEO Dev Mahadevan, the District will again invoke the "rule of necessity" at Wednesday's meeting to secure a quorum. Only Boardmember Dr. Harry Dvorsky can currently preside over the entire negotiating process involving portions pertaining to both Sutter and ACMC. Similar to earlier this month, the board will draw blind lots to add two conflicted members back to the negotiating team and regain a majority of three votes.

Sawhney, Ratnesar and West were excluded by lawyers because of income derived from employment or work performed for Sutter. After drawing lots, Ratnesar was allowed to regain his vote. The three-person board subsequently voted 2-1 (Ratnesar voted against) to approve the filing of a lawsuit in Superior Court challenging the validity of the 2008 memoradnum of understanding.

With all the variations of negotiating teams dealing with the San Leandro Hospital conflict, it is conceivable a legal version of musical chairs could occur with different groups of boardmembers separately deciding subsets of the entire question of how to deal with Sutter and the hospital.

Mahadevan says the District's lawyers believe the "rule of necessity" which allows, in this case, boardmembers with a conflict of interest to return to the decision-making process is not legally "foolproof." "If someone wants they could challenge the contracts made by these boardmembers," said Mahadevan. One way to strengthened the validity of the legal maneuver, he said, would be ask for an opinion from the state's attorney general. Lawyers have told the District, receiving such an opinion in an expedient manner is unlikely and "not worth the time."

The District has experience in this matter. Shortly after his election, Boardmember Sawhney's ties to a Hayward clinic were questioned as a  potential conflict of interest. In that case, an opinion from the attorney general's office was not given quickly, Mahadevan said.


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