MARIN COUNTY: Control Of Healthcare Board Key In Sutter Controversy
In a "power struggle" involving "issues that dominate the national health care debate" and could "have implications across the state," the "fight for control of Marin General Hospital is reaching a climax." While the six candidates competing for the three open seats on the Marin Healthcare District Board debate such issues as "corporate control, cutbacks and emergency care" at the facility, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the race is about "more than just the district or the hospital," it is "about the growing influence of Sutter Health, a nonprofit health care corporation with 26 hospital affiliates around the state, including Marin General." In 1985, members of the Marin Healthcare board "agreed to lease the hospital for 30 years" to California Healthcare Systems, Sutter's predecessor. Last year, the district filed a lawsuit attempting to break the lease and the hospital's ties with Sutter. But a judge "recently ruled that the statute of limitations had run out on the conflict allegations" that Marin was pursuing. The fall election for the board's seats is shaping up as a battle between pro- and anti-Sutter candidates.
The Marin Debate
Anti-Sutter activists are "trying to take over the health care district board in what may be a last-ditch attempt to pressure the hospital into making concessions," the Chronicle reports. Incumbent board member Sylvia Siegel said, "We're going to take back our tax-supported hospital and take back the money they siphoned off." Sutter opponents dislike the fact that $2 million of the hospital's revenues pay Sutter's annual fee, and "say jobs are also disappearing, emergency services are being reduced and health care is suffering" because of the Sutter affiliation. According to the Chronicle, if "the three anti-Sutter candidates win in November they will have a 5-to-0 majority," as two current members already "support breaking the lease." But three pro-Sutter candidates "insist that the elected members of the district board do not have the experience or longevity to effectively manage a modern hospital." The pro-Sutter forces say that while the current lease is "not perfect," it is preferable to a lawsuit, and "they would like to define a new role for the board and then, perhaps, negotiate more favorable terms." Sutter proponents also note that the hospital is earning strong revenues under Sutter, with the money being reinvested in hospital facilities.
The Chronicle reports that the "move toward corporate health care is affecting communities throughout the state as the bottom line increasingly becomes the top priority of hospital management." Thomas Peters, who stepped down as Marin County's health and human services director this spring, said, "The realities of structuring and financing hospitals is a hot topic in numerous communities across the state, and it's a vitally important issue" (Fimrite, 10/8).