A packed room at City Hall heard local and county officials discuss the fate of San Leandro Hospital Monday evening, but the only entity that knows the score was absent from the room.
Sutter Health will soon take ownership of the hospital it was learned at the meeting. Once that happens the Sacramento-based chain will be free to pursue what is thought to be a plan to close the hospital’s emergency room and partner with the Alameda County Medical Center to convert the facility into a rehabilitation center.
But as the 90-minute hearing revealed, city and county officials at the Monday evening gathering weren’t sure what Sutter plans to do. Nor is there currently any deal in place for the county to step in and keep any services at the hospital.
All that is known for certain is that Sutter will get clear title to San Leandro Hospital as soon as its lawyers sign the deed that has been turned over by Eden Township Healthcare District. Eden recently lost its last legal bid to overturn its earlier deal giving Sutter control.
Once that happens, Sutter will be free to operate or close San Leandro Hospital as it sees fit subject to one caveat: if it proposes to shut down the emergency room, the impacts of such a move must be reviewed by Alameda County health officials.
Within 90 days county health officials must present their impact analysis to the County Board of Supervisors. But it wasn’t clear Monday evening whether that report would be a mere description that the board would have to rubber stamp, or an analysis that could empower them to forbid the closure.
Monday’s gathering was presided over by Mayor Stephen Cassidy, Vice Mayor Michael Gregory and Councilwoman Ursula Reed who form an ad hoc committee to coordinate San Leandro’s response.
County Supervisor Wilma Chan, whose district includes San Leandro, also spoke at the meeting, as did Wright Lassiter III, the chief executive of Alameda County Medical Center and Alex Briscoe, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.
Lassiter and Briscoe sought to refute perceptions that the county was working with Sutter to close the hospital. That perception arose after county medical officials announced a deal to move a rehabilitation unit at Fairmont Hospital to San Leandro Hospital. The staff officials conceded Monday night that their original deal should have been handled more openly and promised to be more transparent in the future.
But as was revealed at the hearing, the county’s prior deal with Sutter has lapsed. And while the county has asked Sutter to reopen discussions, so far Sutter has not responded to its overtures.
Lassiter said the county is still interested in moving rehabilitation work to San Leandro Hospital, as well as using it for a variety of ambulatory services – as opposed to in-hospital treatments – and opening an urgent care clinic that could, for instance, treat a sick child in the middle of the night but not a heart attack patient.
Lassiter allowed that this would be “less than ideal” and added that, in principle, the county would be interested in exploring a rescue operation to keep San Leandro’s ER and inpatient services intact.
But Briscoe said whatever the county tries to do for San Leandro Hospital, it cannot risk the financial stability of the overall medical system, the ultimate safety net for poor and working families.
Nurse Lisa LaFave, who works in San Leandro Hospital’s intensive care unit, said it wasn’t just the loss of the ER that would affect the region. Whenever a hospital’s ICU is overloaded, it must stop accepting critical cases. That forces ambulances to divert emergency patients to other ERS.
So if San Leandro Hospital’s ICU gets shut down, other ICUs will get overloaded more often, temporarily shutting their ER intake. “To close that hospital is absolutely criminal,” she said, as the packed room applauded.