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Political Workshop Takes Subtle Aim At Sutter

Town Hall meeting at San Leandro's Senior Center today will feature elected officials asking whether non-profit hospitals do enough to justify their tax-exempt status.

 

A slow motion drama is unfolding in the East Bay hospital industry, and one starring character is Sutter Health, the non-profit chain that runs and owns San Leandro Hospital, and is now with that latter institution.

Against this backdrop, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan and State Board of Equalization member Betty Yee will hold a town hall meeting at 3 p.m. today at the San Leandro Senior Center.

The subject of Friday meeting is obscure but important to San Leandro and the East Bay: do non-profit hospitals provide enough in community benefits to merit their tax-exempt status?

The Board of Equalization oversees many tax matters including hospital tax exemption. Yee is one of its five elected representatives.

One group raising the issue of tax exemption is the California Nurses Association, which has played a leading role in the effort to keep San Leandro Hospital open, even over unsettled labor contracts.

"It’s time to investigate hospital 'non-profit' tax status," as San Leandro nurse Carol Barazi said in a CNA press release that accused Sutter of "steadily reducing services . . . while recording over $4 billion in profits since 2005."

Without directly addressing either today's workshop or the CNA accusations, Sutter defended its public service record in a full page advertisement in Thursday's San Leandro Times

The ad read in part: "In 2011, Sutter Health provided $756 million in free or discounted care for patients without insurance and to support community clinics, medical research and health education."

Obviously there is a disconnect.

In August, California State Auditor Elaine Howle is scheduled to release an independent assessment of whether non-profit hospitals meet the obligations necessary to maintain their tax-exempt status under current law, Supervisor Chan told Patch Thursday.

That audit was set in motion by State Senator Elaine Corbett, the San Leandro Democrat who has sought to keep San Leandro Hospital open. The audit is not directed at Sutter but will include a look at the chain, Chan said.

Yee will use Friday's meeting to explain what are the current criteria for non-exempt status and discuss whether they are adequate and enforceable, Chan said. She will also share examples of how other states handle these mattters.

Meanwhile, the San Leandro Hospital issue has gone quiet. Despite a May report in San Leandro Patch that and lay off its employees, the chain has neither said nor done anything publicly.

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