|Sutter Health Postpones Regionalization As They Advance Litigation
Last night, the Board of Directors of Sutter Coast Hospital, in the face of overwhelming community opposition, voted to put Regionalization on indefinite hold. The Board recognized that their plan to give away hospital ownership has “bogged down,” thanks to your efforts.
While this is favorable news, actions speak louder than words–the Board refused to drop its legal fight to be able to implement Regionalization and Critical Access. In fact, Sutter Health and the local hospital Board expanded the legal action by filing a motion in the Court of Appeals to remove the Injunction (which blocks Regionalization and Critical Access). This legal maneuver by Sutter Health and the local Board is costing our county Healthcare District additional legal expenses and diverting local resources away from patients and into the Appellate Court. If not for the efforts of our Healthcare District Board, I have no doubt that Sutter Health’s plan to take ownership of the hospital would have already taken place. It is unfortunate that the local hospital Board, the majority of whom reside in our two counties, decided to support Sutter Health’s decision to expand the litigation.
To learn more, please join me at a Town Hall scheduled for 6 p.m. this Tuesday, March 12, at the Fairgrounds. I will be presenting information on how Sutter Health’s policies drive up your healthcare costs, and providing specific examples of “inaccurate” statements which Sutter Health executives have made to our community as they try to take ownership of our hospital.
The following is a verbatim copy of a letter which I read to the Board of Directors at last night’s Board meeting (bold sections emphasized during the meeting):
Dear Fellow Directors of Sutter Coast Hospital:
It is clear that concern is continuing to build among the citizens of Del Norte and Curry Counties with respect to this Board’s decision to Regionalize Sutter Coast Hospital. Although this Board made a deliberate decision in September of 2011 to exclude the community and its elected leaders from the Regionalization discussion and vote, the community now understands the impact of Regionalization on our citizens. Unless this Board reverses its prior decision, ownership and all decision making authority of Sutter Coast Hospital, including the immediate decision to reduce the hospital bed capacity by 50%, will be made by a 32 member Board in San Francisco.
Over 2,500 local residents, and every elected official in Del Norte County, have provided written opposition to this Board’s decision to transfer hospital ownership to Sutter Health Corporation. Mike Cohill, the President of Sutter West Bay Region, has told this Board that Sutter Health may choose to close this hospital entirely. Yet, and please correct me if I am wrong, none of the community appointed Board members have ever approached Asante, or any other hospital corporations, to examine other options. It is not only our right to look at partners other than Sutter Health, I believe it is also our responsibility.
This Board now faces a decision which will impact every resident of our region–whether to downsize the hospital to fit Critical Access designation. Sutter Health has already presented, through their executives at Lakeside Hospital, their case for Critical Access. Please be aware that following that presentation, I made three attempts to contact Siri Nelson, Sutter Lakeside CAO, with follow up questions from their presentation, including specifics on how often they have violated the Critical Access criteria. Ms. Nelson has not responded to any of my inquiries. In addition, we have been denied access to the data used in the 2008 and the 2012 Critical Access studies, which were commissioned by Sutter Health.
However, we do know, based on census data from Sutter Coast Hospital, that had we been a Critical Access hospital, we would have been closed to all patient admissions over 50% of the days, and closed to all but maternity and pediatric patients on over 70% of the days during the four month period ending 2/1/13. I understand Critical Access will increase profits to Sutter Health, but the cost in financial and human terms to our community is simply unacceptable, especially considering this Board has not looked at other options.
In an effort to determine which healthcare model would best serve the residents of Del Norte and Curry Counties, I contacted Asante Health system, and two other potential partners, all of which expressed interest in our hospital. As you recall, the Board Chair was critical of this action, and no follow up action was taken by this Board of Directors.
This Board has also recently been notified, in the opinion of a recognized healthcare legal expert, that Regionalization violates California law. John Harwell, the attorney who wrote this legal opinion, was mutually agreed upon by the Medical Staff and Sutter Health executives, prior to his analysis.
Given the fact that it has been determined that Regionalization would implement governing documents which are illegal and which expose physicians to possible sanctions by the Medical Board of California, it is the obligation of the Medical Staff to inform the Board. It is the hope of the Medical Staff that the Board will take immediate corrective action, as outlined in a Medical Staff resolution, passed by unanimous consent during the Medical Staff meeting of 2/28/13, and distributed to this Board on 3/4/13.
While Sutter Health engages the Healthcare District in protracted litigation, and appeals the Injunction which blocks Regionalization and Critical Access designation, let us not wait for a panel of arbitrators or an appellate judge to determine the future of healthcare in this region. Rather, let us act promptly, and in the best interest of our community, to provide the quality health care they deserve.