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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

September, 2007



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Hopeful Horizon For Marin General Hospital
By Norman Carrigg, M.D.

The local daily and the local weekly label the elected Marin Healthcare District board "dysfunctional." They are wrong as board events of August made clear. First of all, before an August 6 special meeting, three of the five directors voted to write an advisory for the ballot asking district residents if they wished to sell or to lease Marin General. The alternative for the voters would be a general obligation bond for seismic repairs or replacement of two older hospital wings with a new wing. On August 6, Directors Bedard, Clever and Jackson reversed themselves. There simply happens to be no interest by any reputable group to lease or buy the hospital when Sutter Health departs during 2009 or early 2010 (Sutter decides).
The five directors at this point seemingly are united behind community control. There is no alternative.

The experience of leasing the publicly owned hospital since 1985 to lessees who operated MGH without accountability is a learning experience. Before 1885 MGH was an accountable, profitable full-service hospital. Getting the hospital back to pre-1985 speed will be a formidable but not impossible task.

I have followed the elected board closely since 1974. What piqued my interest then was that the board made a concession of the emergency room, giving the contract to the lowest bidding doctor. The protests of medical staff doctors, including me, were ignored. Shortly after the contract was signed it was clear that the board made a misjudgment and choices thereafter were not based on price alone. The board subsequently made worse mistakes than the 1974 decision.

No decision of the board was worse than the 1985 lease when hospital users became the losers. Hospital CEO Henry J. Buhrmann and hospital lawyer Quentin Cook formed a MGH shell corporation, got all five directors to sign their 30-year lease, and then siphoned millions of dollars of public assets to the shell. The Sutter Health hospital chain acquired the lease in early 1996. Fortunately for California residents any lease similar to this one would now require voter approval.

Dissension almost always has been part of district board monthly meetings but the board has happily agreed 5-0 to acquire a valuable piece of equipment that will upgrade surgical services.

Robert Prenter of Intuitive Surgical Equipment gave a captivating overview of the daVinci Surgical Robots System that was followed by the unanimous vote to acquire the $1.8 million equipment as a capital/lease acquisition. What the da Vinci makes possible is surgery done swiftly, safely and with less discomfort to the patient. As in laparoscopic surgery incisions are smaller than traditional surgery requires. The da Vinci now is in service at many hospitals including Sutter's California Pacific Medical Center.

What with the whole board on one page the formidable problems of transition to community control may not be so formidable after all. Let's hope so.


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