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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How Hospital Could Have Been A Thorny Issue For Santos

SANTOS, GREGORY COULD HAVE BEEN ON THE HOOK FOR HOSPITAL IF DISTRICT HAD NOT ACTED
By Steven Tavares

A year ago, San Leandro's economic outlook was the basically the same as today. More businesses were leaving than coming and the city's financial reserves continue to nosedive as more programs and services were cut to balance the budget. If the national economy is of any indication, the next year or two will likely be the same tale of woe and cost-cutting, but there was another developing issue that threatened to swallow whole two candidates for re-election next week if it lingered, except it didn't.

The fight to keep San Leandro Hospital from oblivion was the city's biggest news story of last year. Angry and organized residents, including nurses and doctors flooded meetings consistently through the last half of 2009. The upheaval laid claim to the government agency in charge of health care in the area and matched grassroots furor against corporate greed and corruption.

If there was ever a populist issue in San Leandro, this was it, yet San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos never participated in the us-versus-Sutter Health bandwagon. His comments during the height of the fight to save the hospital, which today is still unresolved, rankled many in the community who believed the mayor was standing with the corporation aiming to close their community hospital. Santos still believes the path chosen by the Eden Township Healthcare District and boardmember Carole Rogers to take Sutter head-on in the courts is folly and bound to fail, while costing the cash-strapped district millions in legal fees.

It is well-known Rogers and Santos do not get along, so there is irony in the fact the district's aggressive move against Sutter to file a countersuit against the hospital provider in March effectively mothballed any decision on San Leandro Hospital and indirectly helped Santos' campaign. His handling of the situation with the hospital communicated his office was powerless to stop Sutter while pouring doubt any case could be made to reverse the county's goal of converting it to an acute care rehabilitation facility. There may be some truth to both concerns, but Santos continued to alienate a very vocal and determine group of residents by never acknowledging he was on their side. Stephen Cassidy likes to trumpet his involvement in the cause to save the hospital, but beside offering his support and words, he too has done little. Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak, by contrast, has been mum on the issue throughout. She has offered obvious platitudes to keep the hospital functioning, but has been by far the candidate for mayor least involved in the process.

Councilman Michael Gregory is another candidate who also dodged the speeding bullet of San Leandro Hospital. The facility lies smack dab in the middle of Gregory's district. Last year, the worry-wart councilman voiced concern over being blamed for losing the hospital. "Nobody wants to be the guy who loses a hospital," he said at one meeting at the San Leandro Library. Gregory is facing a challenge next week from David Anderson, who  is a former Oakland school trustee.

Possibly fearing a backlash if the hospital was closed, Gregory became involved with the District when appointed by Rogers to lead the committee to locate candidates to replace a district member who abruptly resigned from the board. That search ultimately brought Dr. Bill West to the board, who is also up for re-election next week. That appointment is credited with reshaping the board and leading to its legal maneuverings earlier this year. The board could be further strengthened with another anti-Sutter member with the replacement of long-time member Dr. Harry Dvorsky. Rogers and West are running for re-election while retired nursing assistant Susan Reisz and attorney Lester Friedman hope to finish in the top three. Both are seen as supporters of the board's current strategy against Sutter.

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