Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lakeport, CA

The great haul from SF to Lakeport

Today I schlepped up to Lakeport in Lake County to attend a packed County Board of Supervisors about downsizing at Sutter Lakeside, a community hospital. I attended the meeting with some members of an organization called Heathcare Justice Sonoma County. I have become involved with the group through my work as the union rep for the residents at Sutter Santa Rosa. A coalition of unions, community activists, and faith based groups formed last year when Sutter Santa Rosa announced that it would be closing down, thereby breaking its agreement the county. The goal of the coalition is to protect access to healthcare in the county and to also preserve and protect labor rights of local workers in health services.

Just as Sutter is shutting down its facilities in Santa Rosa- as well as St Luke's Hospital across the street from my house and several other locations throughout the sate - the corporation is reducing inpatient capacity in Lakeport. These efforts are a part of the current trend across the Sutter system to pull out of underserved - and therefore less profitable - communities while expanding services in weatlhier areas. With a reduction in beds in Lake County, neighboring counties, including Sonoma, are going to pick up the slack. The goal of HCJSC at this meeting was to encourage an independent study of the impact of this downsizing on Lake County and the surrounding area.

The meeting started with an hour and a half presentation from the CEO of Sutter Lakeside. She described all the reasons why this change is necessary while highlighting how accountable the corporation is to the county. Later in the afternoon the floor opened for comments and questions from the public. Many expressed their faith in Sutter, several were quite dubious, and everyone had plenty of questions for the CEO. At the last minute towards the end of the hearing, one of the leaders of HCJSC pulled me aside and asked me to speak on behalf of the residents. I wasn't prepared in the least but he and I wrote something quickly. I stood nervously at the rostrum and, in my squeakiest of voices, urged the Board and the Sutter representatives to investigate the consequences of Sutter's decision. It was all over in a minute and I hope I won't have to relive the moment anytime soon. Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors meetings are very popular with the large retiree community in Lake so if anyone out there has a grandparent living in an RV in Northern California they might catch me! By the end of the meeting the Board and Sutter were able to commit to an independent study once the changes take effect. A post facto review is not exactly what we wanted but given the reality that the B o S has no direct power over Sutter (the relationship is different in Sonoma), this is likely the best they could do.

There is so much more to elaborate on but with eyes half open I must hit the hay!

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