ALAMEDA COUNTY: Move To Oust Kears Intensifies
The effort to remove Alameda County health chief David Kears escalated yesterday, as "[d]ozens of hospital workers, union leaders, neighborhood residents and other citizens staged a rally at Highland Hospital." The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the protesters accused Kears of making decisions that have undermined the financial health of the county medical center -- which includes Highland, Fairmont Hospital and the John George psychiatric facility -- threatening "its ability to care for the poor and uninsured." Wanda Washington, a pharmacy technician and local official for the Health Care Workers Union, said, "The man is dismantling the hospital, department by department."
The county medical center faces a debt of $6.5 million, the Chronicle reports. However, "[e]mployees said they are being unfairly blamed for the budget problems." Oncology nurse Sally Walker said, "This hospital is not over budget, it's underfunded." Employees have "complained of Highland patients waiting months for clinic appointments and hours more once they arrive." In addition, "Walker claimed that some doctors are being pressured to use less expensive drugs for treating cancer patients because of the system's severe budget problems." Nurses have also complained of understaffing. Wanda Brenni, a surgical nurse, said, "It's a terrible situation. We're being told we have to cut more, and we desperately need adequate staff."
Conflict Of Interest?
Kears has argued that "the county is facing stiffer competition for Medi-Cal patients," which cut the county's Medi-Cal revenue in half in 1996 and 1997. Kears said, "The recommendations I make and the policies I pursue are in the best interest of the medical center. I would like to make more money (for the center), but when the county doesn't have more money, there's no one to give it." He also dismissed criticism that his former role as the CEO of the Alliance for Health -- "a nonprofit organization composed of private health care providers and the county medical center" -- caused him to divert "Medi-Cal patients away from Highland and [send] them to private health care providers." He said he is no longer the alliance's CEO (Bowman, 3/3).