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After Three Years of Hand-Wringing San Leandro Joins Fight To Save Its Hospital

East Bay Citizen, 8/17/11

THURSDAY, AUGUST 11, 2011

Like in Washington, the people running San Leandro failed to listened to their constituents with tangible action. It took the City of San Leandro three years to make a move on the issue with this week's filing of an amicus brief in support of theEden Township Healthcare District's appellate case against Sutter Health to maintain services at San Leandro Hospital. Why did it take so long? The same reason why Congress is unable to help its constituents with jobs and a positive belief in the future: poor leadership that comes with institutional hand-wringing.

San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy won office last November despite his boorish and ways because of just one important issue--the incumbent mayor failed to listen to the voices of so many who had already fought passionately to save their hospital. Former Mayor Tony Santos, who some say was too close to Sutter Health, took a far too even-handed approach to the situation and it alienated a swath of the electorate that gave his opponent just enough of a push for victory. "Who just lets a corporation shutdown your hospital?" they often told me.

He wasn't only to blame. Until this week, the San Leandro City Council had sat on its hands for three years without taking a strong, official stance against Sutter. During this period, they have acted without any sense of urgency or bold leadership, almost like a lax homeowner with a burning roof idly waiting for his neighbors to rush over hoses in hand.

In the May 2009, the Council unanimously sent a letter in support of the hospital to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Scott Haggerty famously wadded up the document and tossed it in the garbage during a meeting the same month. It was a deeply humiliating moment for the City Council. One which has been repeated at the Board of Supervisors, in some fashion or another, on other issues regarding the city. Haggerty admonished the council saying the resolution was unnecessary since the county had nothing to do with whether San Leandro Hospital would remain open.

But, that was not the truth, and the entire movement has been stymied every since. In fact, the county put Sutter in the driver's seat by saying the county's need for acute rehabilitation beds outstripped the need for an emergency room at San Leandro Hospital. Despite the rhetoric and good intentions of local politicians, this important fact has not been removed from Sutter's bag of tricks.
This is the story of our times. A powerful, billion dollar corporation attempting to steam roll the citizenry with its sheer power and ruthless tactics in the name of the bottom line over the will of the community.
Although, San Leandro's foray into aiding the Eden Township's case is correct and important because it gives voice to the very people who will suffer possibly with their lives, it may do little to sway an appellate judge to overturn the superior court decision ruling last year in Sutter's favor.

When the city argues for the "highest and best use" of San Leandro Hospital the case falls flat due to past decisions made by the Board of Supervisors and local officials. Most would rightly maintain the top priority for the hospital would be maintaining and adding to its current configuration as a full-service facility.

The problem is, David Kears, the former director of the Alameda County Health Cares Services, took the opposition position and the Board of Supervisors affirmed that assessment. With the closing of Fairmont Hospital, he argued, the number of beds available to the county will reach untenable levels. So low that Sutter's plan to reconfigure San Leandro Hospital to acute rehab without an ER and lease it to the Alameda County Medical Center would better serve the entire county.

If that insanely large number of variables coming to together in one place and one time seems like a miracle, then you might believe your underage pregnant daughter's swollen tummy is the result of Heavenly intervention.

When I speak with supporters of the Save San Leandro Hospital movement I hear frustration with the court's recent rulings against the Eden Township. How is it plausible Eden Medical Center CEO George Bischalany "invisible hand" not sway the Township board towards this colossally inequitable deal in 2008? He was concurrently the Township's CEO, for crissakes! Former Township Director Dr.Francisco Rico received income from Sutter for anesthesiology services reported in the millions. How does this not reach the threshold of public officials "serving two masters," they repeatedly ask. Why?

But, alas, the law is not about how you feel or what is best for the community. The Township's case shows the community still has a long road before celebrating victory or dealing with defeat. Nevertheless, Plan B is in place in the form of St. Rose Hospital, but just how can they be counted on after asking for a $3 million short-term loan last month from the Eden Township.

Some of those gruff naysayer ask me why I cover this story so conscientiously. I tell them, "don't you read the news?"

This is the story of our times. A powerful, billion dollar corporation attempting to steam roll the citizenry with its sheer power and ruthless tactics in the name of the bottom line over the will of the community. Yet, the difference in San Leandro has always been the ability of this community to consistently stifle the mega-corporation in its desire to close the hospital through sheer passion and guile, despite the inaction of its elected leaders. By most measures, San Leandro Hospital should have been shuttered nearly two years ago. This was Sutter's intention all along with a series of threats thereafter.

But, today, and for the foreseeable near future, San Leandro Hospital is still operating with an emergency room chronically overflowing with needy patients, but buoyed by the notion anything can happen if everyone sticks together. It's a recipe for change the rest of country also needs to hear and testament to populism in its purest form.

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