Through my career in venture capital, I have served on dozens of boards of public and private companies, as well as a smaller number of not-for-profit organizations and public committees. As an aside, I have also had extensive experience, from the patient side, at all three major hospitals in the Boston area.
I have also received emergency treatment on three occasions at the Sutter Coast Hospital, including one for cardiac arrest, with only positive comments about my treatment.
With this as background, I have followed with some interest the conflict between Sutter Coast Hospital and the Del Norte Healthcare District Board (HCDB) and offer the following observations:
• I was frankly amazed at how many years it took before there was an article in the Triplicate with the explicit statement that the HCDB has absolutely no authority over Sutter Coast Hospital. One could understand if the community might have thought otherwise. In the four HCDB meetings I attended, I would have assumed by the behavior of the directors, that they had responsibility for the running of Sutter Coast Hospital. An example of this behavior is how the HCDB handled the small number of patients of Sutter Coast Hospital who came to them with billing or quality of service grievances. (For perspective, my guess is that the Sutter Coast Hospital touches nearly 100,000 patients a year. It is astounding that so few patients have felt the need to turn to the HCDB. Every other organization with which I am aware would consider this a stellar result) As pointed out in the recent article, there are two state agencies responsible for the oversight of hospitals. Rather than direct these patients to the appropriate public agencies, the HCDB dug right in, asking for the Sutter Coast Hospital billing schedule. It is not surprising, that the hospital, as a private, non-profit organization with no reporting responsibility to the HCDB, demurred.
• And while I admit to a lack of understanding of the history between the two organizations, I was taken aback by the open hostility from the HCDB to Sutter Coast Hospital. I am sure there is returned sentiment on the part of the Sutter Coast Hospital.
• There seems to be confusion about the duty of transparency owed by a non-profit organization to the public. This can be seen by the HCDB who wants the entire board of the hospital to attend their meetings and feels it is entirely reasonable for them to ask for their billing schedule; by the Triplicate, which to my reading, has been favoring the HCDB line; and by the Board of Supervisors who in letters to the editor (by a supervisor) asked for two HCDB Directors to be seated on the Sutter Coast Hospital board and for the Sutter Coast Hospital board meetings to be open to the public. Would similar demands be made of Mass General (a Boston based premier hospital), or Apple, or the Sierra Club?
• Medicare rates hospitals nationally using a five star system. Sutter Coast Hospital has recently been awarded three stars. My reading is that this is a strong performance for a rural hospital with limited population base. More interesting is that Sutter Coast Hospital had some years ago been ranked two stars. We should be applauding the direction the rankings are moving. (Three hospitals at a time can be compared online across many parameters by going to Medicare.gov. Select “find a hospital,” type in our area code, and hit search.)
• I find it unconscionable that such obvious hostility exists between the two organizations. It doesn’t help when Dr. (Gregory) Duncan, chair of the HCDB, publishes a letter to the editor in which he extols the fact that the board members of the HCDB are publicly elected and by law need to have full transparency, while the board of Sutter Coast Hospital selects its own directors, has private board meetings, and does not make public their minutes. He then asks the rhetorical, self-serving question: Who would the public like to have responsible for their health care? This article not only shows that Duncan does not understand the charter of an HCDB, but that his behavior only perpetuates the broken relationship between the two organizations.
• I feel the Board of Supervisors needs to step up. This will only be effective, however, if they become better educated on 1) the duties of a health care district by speaking directly to the state HCD association and work with the Del Norte HCDB to ensure a solid working relationship with the Sutter Coast Hospital moving forward; 2) on the rights afforded to a private, non-profit organization; and 3) reach out to Sutter Coast Hospital to form their own relationship and not be informed solely by the opinion of the HCDB.
This subject is way too important to the citizens of Del Norte County to let the current situation continue.
Schorr Berman lives in Crescent City.