California Attorney General Kamala Harris approved the sale of six nonprofit Daughters of Charity Health System hospitals to a for-profit chain with austere conditions.
The decree has somewhat calmed a battle that divided powerful unions, both of which have claimed victory. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United said that the sale could save the hospitals from going under. SEIU United Healthcare Workers West argued that Prime’s aim to profit comes at the expense of workers, but also supported Harris’ stipulations.
The Attorney General’s decision also drew criticism from Santa Clara County, which claims that the sale threatens the region’s most vulnerable residents by limiting access to critical medical help and potentially overwhelming local public hospitals. County officials say they will look for ways to acquire one or more of the hospitals to prevent Prime from taking over.
Per Harris’ terms of the sale, Prime Healthcare will run O’Connor Hospital, Saint Louise Regional Hospital, Seton Medical Center, St. Francis Medical Center, St. Vincent Medical Center and Seton Coastside. The deal, which she called the largest overseen by her office, demands that the buyer provide charity care “at historic levels” and reproductive care with no “restriction of limitation.” Prime must also invest $150 million on facility improvements, cover pensions of 17,000 active and retired workers and continue to treat Medi-Cal and Medicare patients for the next 10 years.
Prime Healthcare balked at the conditions, calling them “extensive … [and] unprecedented.”
According to opponents of the sale, including the county, Prime has a record of slashing services. And a day before Harris announced her conditional approval of the sale, a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge found Prime in contempt of 14 of 15 counts for needlessly admitting emergency room patients without notifying their personal doctors. By admitting patients instead of holding them for observation, Prime collected much higher reimbursement rates from insurers.
“This is just one more example to put on the massive pile of evidence that Prime Healthcare is unfit to purchase a hospital system like Daughters of Charity whose mission is to serve the community, especially low-income people,” SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West President Dave Regan said. “This is a company that simply is incapable of playing by any set of rules.”
Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who was bankrolled by that same union in a close intraparty race last year, blasted Prime Healthcare for calling police on intoxicated patients. Pan has introduced a bill that would impose fines on hospitals that have severely drunk patients arrested rather than treated.
“I know it sounds incredible, but some hospitals in California—especially those in one particular hospital system—routinely call 9-1-1 and have patients with potentially lethal levels of alcohol in their systems taken to jail,” said Pan, who implored Harris to reject the Daughters of Charity deal.