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Santa Clara County still interested in DCHS hospitals

Morgan Hill Times, 6/26/14

Daughters of Charity seeks one buyer for all six facilities; nurses plea for promise of full-service future.

The county still wants to buy Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy and O’Connor Hospital in San Jose, but the Daughters of Charity—owner of six medical care facilities throughout the state—is courting prospective buyers interested in acquiring the entire nonprofit health system, according to Board of Supervisors President Mike Wasserman.

“We’d like to buy two and they’d like to sell the whole system,” said Wasserman, who represents the district that includes South County on the board. He noted that “nothing remarkable” has changed since the county’s initial show of interest in February. “We’re still very interested in making that happen.”

Either way, nurses who work at SLRH insist that Daughters of Charity Health System should promise to commit to finding a buyer who will keep the facility open as a full-service hospital that can serve the needs of all area residents.

Prospective buyers have been touring the hospitals and meeting with senior leadership in northern and southern California, according to Elizabeth Nikels, DCHS Vice President of Marketing & Communications.

DCHS announced in January that Saint Louise, and all five of its medical care facilities, including SLRH, O’Connor and Morgan Hill’s DePaul medical buildings, were going up for sale.

“We are pleased with the level of interest in purchasing our hospitals,” Nikels said. “No buyer has been selected at this time. Patients and members of our communities will be best served by the resource that a new owner can bring to SLRH and our other health care facilities.”

Members of the California Nurses Association say they are tired of being left in the dark when it comes to the looming sale. So, on June 19, about a dozen CNA-represented nurses—from SLRH as well as others from Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose—gathered in a shaded area just outside the entranceway of South County’s only full-service hospital to express their frustration.

“It’s been a few months since they’ve been able to tell us anything definitive” about the possible sale of the hospitals, said CNA labor representative Phuong Tran, who helped to organize the planned “vigil” with the nurses holding small signs with their message.

The CNA released a statement June 18 asking DCHS executives to promise to sell the hospitals to a buyer who will keep them as full-service facilities. The labor organization also urged DCHS execs to keep their promises to employees on benefits, pensions, safe staffing and high recruitment standards.

SLRH spokeswoman Donna Cumming responded that DCHS is looking for a buyer for the entire DCHS system who shares the current owner’s goals.

“That’s (DCHS’) vision,” Cumming said. “That the next (owner) will continue to do what DCHS and SLRH has done, which is provide high-quality, affordable and compassionate care for all.”

However, with any negotiations with prospective buyers being kept confidential, nurses—many of whom live in Gilroy and the surrounding areas—are worried about SLRH’s future once it is sold.

“It’s critical. It’s critical for the community,” said Malinda Markowitz, a CNA President and nurse in the medical surgical unit of Good Samaritan Hospital. “It’s about nurses helping nurses to protect our patients and the community.”

One sign at the June 19 vigil read, “Nurses Standing Up for Our Patients,” and the other read, “Our Community Needs Our Hospital,” with both also stating, “Keep Your Promise Daughters of Charity.” 

Registered nurse Donna Fisher, who has worked in South County since 1983 and at SLRH since it was built in 1989, said she and fellow nurses have remained loyal to the regional hospital at 9400 No Name Uno through six ownership changes. The nurses just want to be assured that the seventh will continue operating in the same manner for the long term.

“We need a hospital,” Fisher said. “You don’t think it’s an important thing (to have a nearby hospital) until you need one and you don’t have one.”

At another DCHS facility, Seton Medical Center in Daly City, healthcare workers and area residents participated in a June 25 candlelight vigil with a similar message “urging the (DCHS) to act quickly and select a buyer that would honor the system’s mission and prioritize the interests of patients and caregivers.”

Gilroy Mayor Don Gage, who met with the CNA-represented nurses but was unable to attend the June 19 SLRH vigil, agreed that it is “extremely important” to keep the hospital opened to serve the residents of South County.

“They have concerns,” said Gage of the nurses. “First, (what happens) if the hospital closes? Secondly, they were concerned about who purchases the hospital because, if they are from the private sector, some of them will lose their jobs and they believe they won’t get as good a service under the new ownership.”

Back in February, the County Board of Supervisors tasked a committee of county staff to study the possibility of purchasing SLRH and O’Connor Hospital in San Jose with public funds.

SLRH serves South Santa Clara County and northern San Benito County. The nonprofit hospital has 96 licensed beds, according to DCHS. It employs 554 people, in addition to more than 200 physicians. Its emergency room served 26,000 patients in 2012.

Santa Clara County is no stranger to healthcare delivery and hospital ownership. It owns and operates Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, which has 574 licensed beds and saw about 75,000 emergency room visits in 2012. That hospital also hosts the only burn center in the County, and the only rehabilitation center for spinal cord and brain injuries in the county.

The county also offers non-emergency public health services at facilities throughout the county, including in Gilroy.

MH commissions healthcare needs study 

DCHS’ plans to sell its DePaul Medical Center campus in north Morgan Hill is still in the works. The plan to redevelop that property for a senior housing project is on hold while city staff considers a general plan amendment that is necessary for the land use change.

To assist in that process, at the June 18 Morgan Hill City Council meeting, councilmembers approved a $60,000 contract with Health System Advisors for a market and hospital need analysis regarding the possible change in land use designation for DePaul property and possible sale of SLRH. The analysis will provide answers to the following questions: 1) How the potential change of ownership of SLRH impact the residents of Morgan Hill?; 2) What healthcare services do the residents of Morgan Hill and the surrounding areas need?; and 3) What healthcare providers and assets can likely be supported by Morgan Hill residents locally? 

The study will continue over the coming months and city staff is expected to report back on DCHS’ rezoning and general plan amendment request in August.


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