SAN JOAQUIN: Seeks Public-Private Hospital Partnership
In their efforts to improve San Joaquin County's public health system, local officials are quizzing prospective private partners about how they would approach the venture, including asking whether patient care or profits would come first. Last January, the county board "narrowly voted to pursue a public-private partnership, opting against keeping things as they are or leasing the system to a private company." Nita Rienhart, the county's associate director of health care services, said of the county's goals, "We're looking for something very, very different, something different from what the counties around us have done." In the county's request for proposals, prospective partners are given a 14-page questionnaire with such questions as: "Concerns have been expressed that a joint venture could put profits before programs, services and commitments to the most vulnerable population. How would you address this issue?" and "What kind of resources, in addition to cash, is your organization willing to commit to the new joint venture?" Rienhart noted that the county is committed to maintaining control over health care services. "It's a public health system and we have to maintain the public in its governance," she said.
The Modesto Bee reports that five private health care firms "have expressed interest" in the San Joaquin County proposal -- Catholic Healthcare West, Tenet Healthcare Corp., Adventist Health, Sutter Health and the UC-Davis Health System. The county expects to award a contract "by the end of the year or in early 1999." Some local officials are concerned that the county is doing the wrong thing. Supervisors Dario Marenco and Steve Gutierrez oppose the proposal. "We're not in financial trouble. I'm afraid we're going to abandon the mission -- why would anyone want to go in venture where they can't make money?" Marenco asked (Miller, 8/21).