Coastal Voices: Keep this in mind as Sutter study is released

By Anne Marie Duncan November 04, 2013 03:52 pm

This coming week, Sutter Health will release its long awaited “independent” study on Sutter Coast Hospital.

I am writing this update on the future of Sutter Coast Hospital because the hospital Board of Directors, of which my husband Dr. Greg Duncan is a member, voted to censure Greg for allegedly releasing confidential information outside the board room. Sutter Health and the hospital Board refuse to provide any written specific charges or evidence to support their allegations.

Sutter Health is now beginning its final push to take ownership of Sutter Coast Hospital. As Sutter’s public relations blitz begins, please remember these facts:

1) Sutter Coast Hospital is now owned and governed locally.  Regionalization is a change in ownership and governance.  If we regionalize, local ownership and governance will be lost, and all future hospital decisions will be made by a Sutter-appointed board in San Francisco.

2) Under Critical Access Hospital designation, 24 of our 49 inpatient beds would be closed. If Critical Access is implemented here, people will be transferred elsewhere as a result of the restriction in hospital bed count.

3) The Healthcare District lawsuit had nothing to do with hospital ownership — it was an effort to hold Sutter Health accountable to its promises to provide expanded care and maintain a local hospital Board, in exchange for the monopoly privilege of operating the only hospital in the county. The lawsuit was settled when the cost became prohibitive for the district’s small budget. What the settlement did prove is which side had more money.

But the lawsuit bought our community precious time to become educated on these issues.

The statement in Thursday’s newspaper that Sutter Coast Hospital is the rightful property of Sutter Health is meaningless. Sutter Coast Hospital has always been locally owned and governed. Regionalization is a change in ownership — if Sutter Health already owned it, it  would not have needed to ask the oard to vote for regionalization.

During a recorded meeting on Aug. 8. 2012, Sutter Health senior vice-president Mike Cohill stated to our hospital Board and medical staff that Sutter Coast Hospital owns Sutter Coast Hospital. In 2006, Sutter Health vice-president Brian Hunter declared to the Alameda County Superior Court, “Sutter Health does not own any hospitals,” adding, “Sutter Health’s function is to provide support to the affiliated hospitals. Absent a specific grant of authority from a hospital corporation, Sutter Health is not authorized to act on behalf of the hospitals ...”

As you review the results of the hospital study, please consider the following:

1) The soon to be released “independent” study on the future of the hospital was coordinated and funded by Sutter.

2) The independent funding for the study withdrew its support over concerns that the study results had been predetermined.

3) The local “Steering Committee” was chosen not by the hospital Board, nor by an open invitation for community participation, but by an undisclosed process controlled by Sutter Health.

4) The study consultants performed no independent financial analysis, but instead relied on financial data provided by Sutter Health.

5) Sutter required local residents on the Steering Committee to sign a confidentiality agreement. Greg will not sign an agreement, which prevents him from sharing information on the future of the hospital with the public.

Now, let’s review a point of agreement with Sutter Health:  our local hospital has been in decline. The decline is understandable, given the fact that Sutter Health has shifted its focus to health-care delivery in urban areas.

Does it make sense to transfer hospital ownership to San Francisco, or should we engage partners who specialize in rural health care and operate in our region? 

Fortunately, three other hospital corporations are interested in serving our community. Asante Health system (which operates Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, Three Rivers Hospital in Grants Pass, and Ashland Community Hospital) has a proven track record of profitability and patient care excellence. Asante would like to partner with this community.

As you review Sutter Health’s upcoming presentation and public relations efforts, please remember our community has three options:

1) Continued local ownership and governance, with management by Sutter Health.

2) “Regionalization,” change of ownership and governance to a San Francisco-based Sutter Corporation.

3) Affiliation with a new partner, such as Asante, which has publicly expressed an interest in a closer affiliation, specializes and excels in rural health care, and is in our region.

Anne Marie Duncan is a Crescent City physician. 

Editor’s note: Hospital ownership was addressed in the settlement of the Healthcare District lawsuit. To read the Triplicate’s report on the settlement, go to  triplicate.com and search for “district drops hospital lawsuit.”