By: Sharon Erlich and Donna Fischer, San Jose Mercury News
For decades, registered nurses at Daughters of Charity Health System have outlasted wars, pestilence and even earthquakes to fulfill their mission of serving the indigent and the poor in the Bay Area and Southern California. No one alive can recall a time care was not available at the local hospitals.
At Seton Medical Center in Daly City, four generations of Nikki Santiago’s family have benefited from our care, culminating in the birth nearly four years ago of her baby daughter.
Ten years prior, Santiago had miscarried, and when she fell pregnant this time around, the doctors warned her that she was at risk of miscarrying again. A hotel clerk, she was uninsured at the time; after enrolling in the state’s public insurance program, Medi-Cal, she began visiting the Seton clinic regularly.
“That was really important because the doctors at Seton told me I needed bed rest,” she recalled recently. “I relied on public transportation so it would take me at least an hour one way to go to the next closest hospital in San Mateo County or San Francisco. I can see Seton from my house.”
The verdict? Santiago delivered a healthy, bouncing 7-pound, 6 ounce baby girl.
But now care for families like Nikki’s are at risk. Daughters of Charity hospitals face the threat of bankruptcy and possible closure as soon as June unless California Attorney General Kamala Harris approves a sale to the leading bidder, Prime Healthcare.
“How can we close O’Connor Hospital,” said Maria Canonizado, an RN at O’Connor, “where one quarter on the babies in the San Jose area were born, there were almost 5,000 emergency room visits in the last year, is a stroke center and accepts many of the community’s most acutely ill patients?”
Or risk the loss of St. Louise Regional Hospital, the only hospital serving Gilroy whose closure would force the nearly 24,000 patients who went to its ER last year to travel 25 miles to get to the next nearest hospital.
That’s why the California Nurses Association and its 1,800 members who work in Daughters of Charity hospitals are working so hard to support the proposed sale to Prime, the only bidder which has pledged, and signed an agreement, to keep all six hospitals open and preserve their vital health services for at least five years. Prime has also agreed to pay off nearly $750 million in tax-exempt bonds, pension and other debts, and commit an additional $150 million to hospital improvements.
Nurses are not standing alone in this fight. We’re joined by the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Consumer Watchdog, the National Organization for Women, NAACP and countless patients and community residents who know how vital it is to retain out community hospitals.
Those who oppose the sale can point to only one other bidder, Blue Wolf Capital, a Wall Street turnaround firm that specializes in “restructuring” troubled businesses and cutting core services for a quick resale and hefty profit. It has no experience in the health care industry, unless you count their 2008 investment in a Chicago laundry that cleans linens for area hospitals. Unlike Prime, Blue Wolf has made no commitment to keep open our community hospitals.
The time to speak out is now. Join with us to avert a public health crisis and urge Harris to approve the sale.
Sharon Erlich has been a registered nurse in the Emergency Department at O’Connor Hospital for 17 years. Donna Fischer, an RN for 38 years, has worked for the past 32 in the ICU at St. Louise Regional Hospital. They wrote this for this newspaper.