SUBMITTED BY DR. GREG DUNCAN, CHIEF OF STAFF
I appreciate the input which Linda Horn and a group of hospital employees provided to the Board of Supervisors May 28th. Everyone expressed the common goal of a strong local hospital. I write with suggestions on how we may secure that goal.
The Medical Staff has already passed several resolutions opposing Regionalization and Critical Access Hospital (CAH) designation for Sutter Coast Hospital. In fact, five months ago, at the request of several physicians, Dr. John Tynes contacted Sutter West Bay Region President Mike Cohill seeking just those two reassurances–that we don’t transfer hospital ownership to Sutter Health or move to downsize Sutter Coast to a Critical Access facility. Mr. Cohill promised to pass our request on to Sutter Health CEO Pat Fry. To date, we have received no reply from Mr. Cohill or Mr. Fry.
Linda Horn told the Supervisors that “Critical Access is not being discussed.” In fact, Sutter Health called a special meeting of the Sutter Coast Board earlier this year to discuss Critical Access. Sutter Lakeside executives gave a presentation on Critical Access, including a three step process by which CAH designation could be implemented here. We are now halfway through the second step in that process. A 2012 study on Critical Access (funded by Sutter Health) produced the following recommendation to Sutter Health (quoting directly from the report): “Based on the information presented above, we believe that the Hospital should pursue the CAH program.”
The Camden Group, which Sutter is now paying to perform a strategic options study for the hospital, has been directed by Sutter to include Critical Access designation as one of the options for Sutter Coast. The Camden Group has longstanding and ongoing business relationships with both Sutter Health and Sutter CEO Pat Fry. Sutter Health wrote the study proposal and conducted private conference calls with their prescreened consultants. Hospital Board Chair Ken Hall then single handedly appointed three community members to select the final consultant. Today, Ms. Horn mentioned that a group of 15-18 community members would be involved in the study going forward. This was news to me-no such information was ever presented or discussed in the hospital Board room.
Ms. Horn also stated today that Regionalization is indefinitely postponed. Please note the following: if Sutter would release the minutes of the 3/7/13 Board meeting, you would read that Regionalization is only being “temporarily set aside”, while “the process remains in place.” Regionalization and Critical Access were put on hold by the hospital Board only after Superior Court Judge Leonard LaCasse issued an Injunction blocking both programs. Sutter Health attorneys are currently trying to lower the Injunction.
It is my understanding that outside funding is still available for the hospital options study–why not start the process over, with outside funding and community input from the beginning, using a company without longstanding ties to Sutter Health? We all agree we need a study-let’s make it a valid one.
Our concerns with Critical Access are twofold. First, the program would eliminate 50% of our hospital beds, necessitating hundreds of emergency patient transfers every year to distant hospitals, at the patients’ risk and expense, and without their family or local doctor at the receiving hospital. Second, Critical Access would precipitate significant layoffs at Sutter Coast.
At Sutter Lakeside, which is not as busy or as remote as Sutter Coast, the implementation of Critical Access was followed by massive job losses, and closure of two outpatient clinics. According to a March 2008 press release from Sutter Lakeside, Critical Access designation would “preserve the over 600 high quality jobs SLH provides in our community,” adding that “SLH will be able to invest more in our community and expand our services–not cut them.” The reality at Sutter Lakeside has been quite different. The “over 600 high quality jobs” have been reduced to approximately 270, including a 10% across the board cut in March 2012. SLH also closed two outpatient clinics following Critical Access designation.
The concern with Regionalization, which dissolves our local hospital Board and transfers ownership and governance of our locally owned hospital to a Sutter appointed Board in San Francisco, is that we lose control of all decision making, including the decision to implement Critical Access, and the decision to outsource jobs out of the community as part of Sutter Health’s “Shared Services” program. Regional President Mike Cohill told us during a recorded meeting last August that under the “Shared Services” program, only employees who touch patients can be assured their jobs will stay local.
An ongoing frustration among the community is Sutter Health’s refusal to release the financial data for the hospital or meeting minutes from the Board of Directors. We hope Sutter will honor the Healthcare District’s subpoena for the financial data (which Sutter attorneys have to date ignored), and will respect Supervisor Finigan’s request that the Sutter Coast Board release their meeting minutes. An open process would do wonders to resolve this conflict.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. It is only through open communication that we will resolve this issue to the benefit of the residents and visitors of our two communities, and the many talented and dedicated hospital employees and auxiliary members whom I have had the privilege of working with at Sutter Coast Hospital for the past 21 years.