Saturday, April 19, 2014

Guest Editorial by Dale Bohling

Today's newsletter is a guest editorial by Dale Bohling, a former railroad employee of 37 years who served his local labor union as an in-shop representative, and a current resident of Crescent City, CA, where the Sutter Coast Hospital Board of Directors (at the recommendation of Sutter Health executives) has voted to take the following actions:
(1)  Dissolve themselves as the hospital's governing body.
(2)  Transfer ownership of the region's only hospital from within the community to a corporation in San Francisco which is controlled by Sutter Health.
(3)  Downsize the hospital by 50% in order to qualify for higher Medicare payments.  
Steps (1) and (2) are on hold "for the time being" due to public outcry.
Sutter Health executives state these moves are needed for financial reasons, claiming Sutter Coast Hospital ("SCH") has not been profitable since 2008.  A quick fact check reveals otherwise.  SCH's IRS Form 990 shows a net revenue of $6.5 million in 2010.  In 2009, profits were $759,000.  (source:
Sutter Health's net profits in 2012 were $735 million. (source:  Sutter Health executives doubled their own salaries between 2007 and 2012, including Sutter Health CEO Pat Fry, whose compensation increased from $2,287,163 in 2007 to $6,393,883 in 2012 (source: Sutter Health IRS Form 990).
SCH CEO Linda Horn claims the hospital is closing beds which "are empty every day--and have been for years."  That statement is false.  Read on to see the facts . . .  

      There's no sugar-coating in-patient bed reduction        by Dale Bohling
Why does the story of Little Red Riding Hood come to my mind as I read Sutter Health executive Linda Horn's latest attempt  to assuage community trepidations over Sutter Health Corporation's dual decisions to convert Sutter Coast Hospital  to Critical Access and to move the governing board hundreds of miles away from the community? ("Same services offered under Critical Access", published 4/4/14 in The Del Norte Triplicate).
Maybe  it was the wolf's cloaking of his evil intentions as well as his ravenous appetite that sparked the comparison. It may also have been the vulnerability of Little Red Riding Hood as she began to realize that appearances can be deceiving which is seemingly what emerges within our community with  each sugar coated apologetic  presented to the community by Sutter Health.
While taking four whole paragraphs to set the stage for her intended splurge, Ms. Horn painted the canvas with images of hospital staff being awarded for their dedication to their patients and recognition of career tenure by their employer.  Along the way she sprinkled flowers of good will with her sharing of Sutter Health's magnanimous philanthropy in the community.  An altogether rosy picture emerged of a community and the beneficent corporation that built and maintained the local full service hospital. That is, of course, an idealized picture of how things SHOULD be and seemingly HAVE been.  Enter the  cloaking:
"It is our commitment and desire to continue being a full service hospital and an active community partner", Ms. Horn wrote. She avoids explaining  how to reconcile that statement with the fact of intent by Sutter Health  to reduce that hospital by half.  How does dividing something by half allow it to remain the same as before the division?
If the answer lies in the simple closing of doors, with beds that are "empty every day--and have been for years", as Ms. Horn asserts, I see little cause for concern. But Ms. Horn's assertion is simply NOT TRUE.  Here are the facts:  
(1)  The beds have NOT been empty for years.  According to Sutter's own website, there were 62 days in the period 1/1/12 to 6/30/13 when the hospital census exceeded 25, including multiple days within the last year.  (source:
Remember, Critical Access hospitals begin shipping adult, non-maternity patients when the census is just 22, so the impact is even worse than it at first seems.
How can Ms. Horn's  statement be viewed as anything other than a deliberate deception or ignorance of Sutter Coast's own data which was released to the Camden Group to be used in their study?
(2)  Closing doors is not what actually takes place.  The rooms are not just closed, they are locked.  Permission to remove the locks must be obtained from some unspecified government agency, in the event of a declared emergency or disaster, when time is of the essence.  
(3)  The concomitant evisceration of the attendant staff whether highly skilled or ancillary, top to bottom, cannot be reversed by declaration of the state or anyone else.
People will lose their livelihood as their training and skills are stripped away from the full service setting owing to Critical Access designation.  Yet this loss of dedicated hospital staff is presented by Ms. Horn as being instantly replaceable at the time of an extraordinary event involving a mass influx of casualties, like merely opening doors and dusting off sheets.
Is Ms. Horn saying that a flood of volunteers will come to the fore to fill in the gaps? Volunteers will do what they are trained to do, but what of medical skills?
Does Sutter Health expect us to believe they can muster a fully trained staff with a snap of the fingers?
Equally inexplicable is the concept of being an active (caring?) community partner while simultaneously  removing any semblance of local governance 300+ miles distant where any meaningful input would be negligible. A good community partner does not cause members of that community additional grief by shipping them off to distant hospitals for care, leaving them devoid of the support of loved ones and the additional financial burden of getting a 2nd mortgage on their homes to finance transportation back home while in a recumbent state. Woe to he who falls ill under the shadow of Critical Access.
As a sedative to a concerned community, Linda Horn offers this choice parsing of words: "Remember that a  viable full service hospital will sustain real estate values, jobs and services in our community. We are offering the same services after our CAH designation as we offer today". Yes, Ms. Horn, the same services, only HALVED.
Dale L. Bohling
Crescent City
Here's how you can help:

If you wish to retain local ownership of a full service, non-Critical Access hospital in our region, please write to the Board of Supervisors, 981 H. St., Crescent City, CA 95531.  Our Supervisors have asked Sutter to reconsider their actions and release their data to the public.  Sutter refuses to comply.  But our elected leaders have the authority to end this conflict with Sutter Health by exercising their right of eminent domain, to hold Sutter accountable to the promises they made to this community when they were invited here--to provide expanded services and improved quality of care.  GJD

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