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October, 2006


Marin General Board Election Is Critical
By Norman Carrigg, MD

For years patient care at Marin General Hospital has been less than exemplary. For this reason there have been years of community effort to get MGH out of the Sutter Health control and back into the community control. Sutter, a Sacramento-based chain, runs MGH under the terms of a 1985, 30-year lease.
The five 1985 elected Marin Healthcare Board Directors leased MGH to a shell corporation which was then funded by a massive transfer of public assets to the privatized facility. Gary Giacomini, then a county supervisor, described the transaction as "the biggest theft of public property in Marin's history."

In early 1986 MGH joined California Healthcare System, San Francsico. Millions of dollars of patient revenue made one-way trips across the Golden Gate Bridge. The revenue stream changed direction early in 1996 when MGH and CHS merged into Sutter Health. The MGH CEO, now CEO of the privatized MGH, shortly after the Sutter acquisition asked the elected board to approve MGH joining Sutter's "obligated group."

It took the votes of three elected directors for MGH to join the obligated group: Dr. Larry Bedard, Suzanna Coxhead and Valerie Bergmann. Bedard was recalled later that year. Coxhead leaves the board this November. Bergmann left the elected board November 1996.

The obligation to Sutter is enormous. Sutter can sweep "excess" cash which is defined as more cash than needed for 14 days operation. More dangerous, MGH became a guarantor of Sutter's multi-billion dollar aggregate debt. To get out of the latter obligation may be as difficult as divorcing from Sutter.

Fast forward to 2006. The lease is scheduled to end in 2015. However, Sutter agrees to end the lease sooner but on Sutter terms. Two of the five board members, Dr. John Severinghaus and Sharon Jackson represented the board in secret sessions (at Sutter's demand) of lease termination proceedings. The other board members were unable to participate because this is the way Severinghaus handled it. Well, so much for democracy. We are now in the midst of public hearings about the planned termination of the lease but I expect Sutter will have its way totally.

This November three of the five seats of the Marin Healthcare District board will be filled by voters. What happens in November's election will pretty much determine board direction until 2008. Will it be consumer-oriented? Three of five directors could totally decide board direction.

Two doctor candidates running as a team hope to join Sharon Jackson to form a troika. Sharon Jackson, on the board for two years, whose term expires in 2008 is a Sutter sycophant. Candidate Dr. Larry Bedard was elected to the board in 1994 but recalled, for good reasons, by 1996 voters. Dr. James Clever will join Bedard and as an unknown first time candidate. What concerns me is that Clever, a distinguished retired physician, is willing to team up with Bedard and Jackson.

A pro-consumer trio is also running for the three vacancies: Jonathan Frieman, Jennifer Rienks and Kathleen Russell. They would be supportive of Dr. "Archie" Ramirez who is the only consumer-oriented director on the current board. The residents of the Healthcare District (all of Marin except Novato) deserve the representation that they are not receiving now.

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