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House members urge AG to nix hospital sale

Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Zoe Lofgren led 16 other California House members Thursday in urging California Attorney General Kamala Harris to reject the sale of six Daughters of Charity Health System hospitals to a for-profit company they say has a history of unfair business practices.

Honda and Lofgren, both D-San Jose, cited concerns that under Prime Healthcare Services, “patient care and healthcare worker rights will suffer at these hospitals.”

Los Altos Hills-based Daughters of Charity, a Catholic system, wants to sell Daly City’s Seton Medical Center and Seton Coastside satellite campus, O’Conner Hospital in San Jose, Gilroy’s Saint Louise Regional Hospital and two Los Angeles-area medical centers to Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare, a $2.5 billion system with 29 hospitals and 4,700 beds in nine states.

Harris may reject the sale based on any factors found relevant, including: whether the sale is in the public interest; whether it would create significant effects on the availability of health care services in the community; or whether the proposed use of the proceeds from the transaction is consistent with the charitable trust under which the hospitals have operated.

“Our biggest concern is Prime’s history of unfair business practices that have resulted in civil and criminal investigations by government agencies for allegedly overbilling Medicare as well as violations of patient confidentiality,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Harris. “The National Labor Relations Board has issued charges against Prime for such illegal practices as unilaterally cutting employee health insurance plans, interrogating and intimidating employees who are supportive of their union, bad faith bargaining and bribing employees to vote to decertify the union. Class action and wage and hour violation lawsuits have been filed against Prime at 11 of their 15 California hospitals.”

That, combined with the mission of these hospitals to serve the most-needy residents raises substantial doubts as to the sensibility of this sale, they say.

Others House members signing the letter included Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; and George Miller, D-Martinez.

UPDATE @ 10:07 FRIDAY: It seems these House members have taken a side in a battle between two unions. SEIU-United Healthcare Workers opposes letting Daughters of Charity sell to Prime Healthcare, while the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United supports the deal.

CNA/NNU in October reached an agreement with Prime Healthcare including a pledge to keep open for at least five years O’Connor in San Jose, Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, Seton Medical Center in Daly City, and St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles. Prime also promised it has no intention of reducing patient services or taking actions that would put the services at risk, as well as respecting collective bargaining rights, jobs, pension rights and existing labor standards at the hospitals covered by the pact.

Another potential buyer, private equity firm Blue Wolf Capital, refused to commit to keeping the hospitals open, protecting patient services, or honoring employee contracts or existing labor standards, CNA/NNU says.

And so CNA/NNU nurses, joined by nuns associated with Daughters of Charity, will hold a vigil Friday afternoon outside O’Connor Hospital “to urge state officials to take the steps needed to preserve the hospitals for public safety. CNA co-president Zenei Cortez said those opposing the sale “without offering an alternative that would protect our patients and our communities are putting everyone at risk. Nurses will not be silent in the face of this emergency.”

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Signatures sent in for Medi-Cal funding measure

Health care providers and community groups have gathered and are submitting 1.3 million signatures to put a measure on November’s ballot that they say will provide stable funding for health care for children and, through Medi-Cal, for seniors and low-income residents.

“California voters will get the chance this fall to strengthen this critically important law, and improve access to quality affordable medical care for those who need it most,” California Hospital Association President and CEO C. Duane Dauner said in a news release.

The Medi-Cal Funding and Accountability Act of 2014 “will ensure California receives ongoing access to approximately $3 billion annually in federal matching funds,” Dauner said. “This is California’s fair share, money that would otherwise be left on the table in Washington, D.C.”

California’s hospitals for the past several years have taxed themselves to get access to the federal funds, but the budget-crunched state at times has diverted some of that money to its general fund. Last year’s SB 239, passed by the Legislature without any opposing votes and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, extended this fee through 2017 and specified how the money could be spent.

This measure would make that law permanent, and would require that “any changes in the program or to how the money is spent would have to be approved by voters first,” Christopher Dawes, president and CEO of Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children’s Health, noted in the release.

Patients aren’t assessed any fees, and there are no new or increased taxes.

“We don’t have a single voice of opposition – this is a win-win for everybody… and it doesn’t cost a dime to California taxpayers,” said Anne McLeod, the California Hospital Association’s senior vice president of health policy.

The money must be spent to provide health care services to children and, through Medi-Cal, to elderly and low-income Californians. Without the federal funds, money would have to come from privately insured patients; the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office finds the measure would save state taxpayers $500 million for children’s health coverage starting in 2016-17, growing to more than $1 billion per year by 2019-20.

Dauner said people with private insurance shouldn’t face higher rates to subsidize unpaid Medi-Cal bills if federal money is available to cover the cost. “The Act is a common-sense answer to helping people provide health care to those who need it most, at great benefit to California taxpayers.”

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New laws signed on prostitution, child car seats

Gov. Jerry Brown signed several bills by Bay Area lawmakers today, including one that lets juveniles convicted of prostitution seal their records without proving they’ve been rehabilitated, and another that aims to boost infant car-seat safety.

AB 2040, by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Oakland, “provides that an adult who was previously adjudicated to be a ward of the juvenile court because he or she committed a prostitution offense may petition the court to seal the records of the offense, regardless of the person’s criminal record or proof of rehabilitation,” according to the most recent legislative analysis. This relief isn’t available to those minor “johns” who paid or offered to pay a prostitute. The Assembly had passed this bill 49-21, and the state Senate approved it unanimously, 36-0.

AB 1452, by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo “requires hospitals, clinics, and birthing centers, when discharging a child, to give the parent or the person to whom the child is released specific contact information for organizations that provide assistance with the use, law, and installation of child passenger restraint systems,” the analysis said. The Assembly passed this bill on a 61-14 vote, and the state Senate on a 31-6 vote.

See what other Bay Area bills the governor signed into law today, after the jump…
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California Poison Control System about to fold

Budget cuts are about to make California the only state without emergency poison control services for its residents and medical professionals.

The San Francisco-based California Poison Control System has managed more than 2 million cases since its creation in 1997. Operating out of four sites around the state, clinical pharmacists, registered nurses, physicians and poison information providers answer the toll-free phones around the clock, handling around 900 cases a day; a board-certified physician toxicologist is always available to consult with doctors seeking expert, current, specialized advice in managing poison cases.

“We’re able to quickly assess when people call us that many callers are calling about things that are minor or negligible,” executive director Stuart Heard said, thus saving California an estimated $70 million in unnecessary emergency response and ER costs last year – but no more.

CPCS’s state budget line has been zeroed out for the coming budget year, meaning that hotline will go silent in September — and meaning all those cases will get shifted to 911 lines and hospital emergency rooms. Heard estimates there’ll be an additional 164,000 ER visits per year, and those overworked doctors and nurses no longer will be able to dial up the poison-control experts as they have in the past. “We’re just shifting this over to other systems that are less prepared than we are.”

Heard said the CPCS budget for the current fiscal year is between $11 million and $12 million, with California paying $5.9 million and the rest coming from the federal government or other service contracts.

“More than 50 percent of poisonings happen to children 5 years old and under and more than 90 percent happen at home,” he said. “Without the services that we provide, California’s children will be at risk. This is why we are urging residents to pick up the phone and call the Governor’s office and their legislators to ask that the funding for the California Poison Control System be returned to the budget.”