SAVE SAN LEANDRO HOSPITAL
Dec. 27, 2011 | The fight to keep San Leandro Hospital was about the 99 percent versus the obscenely rich way before the notion became an unbelievably effective and accurate description of the financial unfairness raging in this country.
Sutter Health’s vigorous attempts to shutter the community hospital over the past three years despite strong opposition from a well-organized group of nurses and community leaders mimics the fight of occupiers across the country. They like, those, for instance, in Oakland have been steadfast and largely successful in batting back the enormity of their enemy to a stalemate.
The backbone of the movement is to radically loosen the grip of corporate American and the super rich from prospering at levels incredibly incommensurate with what they provide to society.
The issue at San Leandro Hospital is much more than economics and simple business math, but specifically about racism, elitism and a corporation prospering on the public dime without giving back to the community.
Sutter Health is a non-profit health care provider that reaped over $800 million in 2010. San Leandro Hospital is one of 23 hospitals it operates within a near monopoly in Northern California. Sutter’s tax-exempt status comes theoretically from the idea its benefit comes in exchange for providing care to the region. This fact, though, conveniently drops to the wayside in Sutter’s calculation.
In San Leandro, most heatlh experts believe an annual subsidy ranging between $6-$10 million would keep the hospital running in its present form as a general acute care facility with a 24-hour emergency room. The small subsidy in light of Sutter’s $800 million in profits is main rallying cry for supporters of the hospital. Sutter says it pools the network’s profits and readily applies it among its facilities, but who really cares about accounting procedures when 30,000 people a year will have to travel further for access to emergency care.
The reason for Sutter’s ambivalence is simple, but sickening. It doesn’t want a hospital in San Leandro competing with its $300 million expenditure of a rebuilt Eden Medical Center over the hill in Castro Valley. The yet-to-be-completed Eden, rising like the unfinished Death Star, will offer fewer services and contain less hospital beds at a time when the county is struggling to find more capacity. Sutter made $800 million last year because it runs a good business. Less competition means higher profits. A study this year in the Los Angeles Times found the average price of a hospital stay in Northern California vastly outpaces care in Southern California. The reason: Sutter’s monopoly in the North.
The focus on Castro Valley and the Tri-Valley with its higher income payer mix is a big drawing card for Sutter. It also purposefully excludes demographics who truly need health care more than ever.
Ever travelled to Castro Valley, Dublin and Pleasanton? On a sunny day, be sure to wear shades or risk blindness from the sun rays bouncing off the white skin of its population. Many of the current patients at San Leandro Hospital are poor and without health insurance. A vast majority aren’t even from San Leandro, but from Oakland. Critics have long accused Sutter of medical redlining. In essence, sorting out the poor and indigent from their facilities to other county-run hospitals, while courting more affluent customers. It’s a course of action that is particularly distasteful, but apparently a prerequisite action for any 1 percenter of any consequence.
Occupy Wall Street protesters loudly complain of corporations gaming the system in Washington. They point to the lack of transparency in Congress, where the super rich seemingly write their own legislation into law through lawmaker bought and paid for many times over. This not only happened with Sutter at San Leandro Hospital, but has occurred in similar fashions in San Francisco, Marin and Santa Rosa .
Elected health board district boards are notoriously corrupt partly due to the fact nearly all of them are former hospital administrators, doctors and some nurses. They have an inherent conflict when dealing with entities like Sutter while purportedly acting in the public’s name.
Even though a state appellate court denied the Eden Township Healthcare Distict’s attempt to stop Sutter from gaining title to San Leandro Hospital, the ground work for the complaint was laid years ago by Sutter officials who bore a hole into the previous district board and downloaded a virus that unfortunately may never be eradicated even with the best intentions in mind.
For instance, the same man employed to run Eden Medical Center also headed the Eden Township Healthcare District while it negotiated two contentious agreements in 2004 and 2008. One more time: The same person employed by a health care behemoth also dabbled in the business affair of a government entity.
Legally-speaking, the likelihood of proving this executive wore two hats and willfully corrupted the decision-making process is very low. In reality, we know Sutter executive George Bischalaney was in the room during negotiations and fielded questions from board members crafting the deal who, themselves, were known as member with known allegiances to Sutter. Elected officials like Dr. Frank Rico, Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar and Suzanne Barba represent modern-day Judas’ who acquiesced to Sutter’s threats to build a competing hospital in the Tri-Valley instead of rebuilding Eden, instead of suing them for breach of contract.
If the current, more public-friendly board cannot ultimately save San Leandro Hospital, it is of no fault of theirs, but the predecessor's cowardice that dig the District a hole they could never possibly dig themselves out.
The one percent has stolen the convictions of ordinary Americans for too long and the Occupy movement have succeeded in shining a light on the corruption of the corporations. Occupy Oakland has led the way in taking the fight to the Port of Oakland to extract an ounce of flesh. Occupy Cal has shown how public and higher education is being gutted for those interested in gaining an affordable education.
San Leandro Hospital’s fight against Sutter represents the third rail in our disgust: the shocking lack of health care for a vast majority of Americans. People in this country should not have to decide between paying the rent and buying medication. People in the East Bay shouldn’t lose access to a hospital solely because of the color of their skin or the end ledger in the checking account. It's time to Occupy Health Care.