January 19, 2007

Paradise Valley critics say, “Action is already being taken”

By Raymond R. Beltran

NATIONAL CITY — National City resident Maria Estrada balances a $12,000 a year income with her twelve year old son, and says if it weren’t for Paradise Valley Hospital’s charitable programs she wouldn’t be receiving some of the breast screenings and mammograms provided.

On Monday night, she joined fifty other South Bay residents who held a candle light vigil on the corner of 4th Avenue and Euclid, facing PVH, to oppose the sale of the non-profit hospital to a for-profit buyer, Prime Healthcare.

“I heard a week ago they wanted to close or sell [PVH] to a profit company,” Estrada said. “The hospital has different plans for the community, to clean up the drugs … they can change the blood and not pay nothing.”

Estrada, who’s three children (two are adults) were born at PVH, says her nephew had recently entered the hospital’s Chemical Dependency Program for a heroin addiction. He’s clean now and she says she fears that these types of services will no longer be available to an impoverished South Bay.

Seventh Day Adventist Health, the hospital’s non-profit owner, has a contract to sell to the for-profit Prime Healthcare, a deal that has to be approved by the Attorney General Jerry Brown by February 19. Critics say, for many reasons, the sale would lead to the hospital’s closing, leaving over half of their under- or un-insured patients without services. The hospital serves a total 360,000 patients annually, according to their website.

Community activists are urging residents to attend a meeting with the Attorney General on Jan 25th at the Holiday Inn (700 National City Blvd), beginning at 1 p.m.

When asked if the community’s concern may in fact be a reality, former PVH CEO Fred M. Harder stated, “It is very real.”

“Before there’s a sale approved, there’s actions already being taken,” Harder said.

Physicians, who now would like to remain anonymous, have received ninety day notices. They say various physicians’ contracts have been cancelled in the Senior Health Center and Paradise Family Health Center. Five doctors are already in the process of phasing out, one heading to Scripps and three others starting their own private practice, sources say.

A recent Healthcare Impact Report from the AG’s office states about the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, “The average daily census for these services is approximately two patients each which is relatively low. These services are frequently provided by larger tertiary hospitals on a regional basis and patients in the PVH service area could easily be accommodated at other area facilities.”

Paradise Valley’s Dr. Ben Medina, who was somewhat reluctant to speak, says the phase out of this unit (that includes intensive care, a nursery, and special resuscitation equipment) will have a serious impact.

“It’s probably underutilized, but if you’re going to do high risk deliveries, you probably only want to cut it down to ten beds,” said Medina, a 27-year veteran doctor at PVH and Medical Director.

The report also states that the AG’s approval is not without “potential conditions,” including the continuation of various health centers, behavioral, family and senior included, for the next five years. Critics say that five years is all the hospital has left.

The five year condition conflicts with the ninety day notice of termination to the various clinics, leaving physicians and patients in the dark. Deputy Attorney General Wendi Horwitz, who’s heading the transaction, could not be reached for answers.

Harder and other concerned physicians have formed the Paradise Preservation Group, LLC to submit a $30 million bid to buy PVH to continue running it as a non-profit.

The group is hoping the recent report will be annulled in that, they say, it did not consider their bid nor the perspective of physicians from PVH.

“Those of us involved think that a non-profit model of health care is the best way to serve the community,” Harder said.

PVH is a clear model for the expression, ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ Having served the community for 103 years, the hospital has found itself in a $7.9 million debt, leading back to 2001, due to charitable services with little state reimbursement, according to the Attorney General’s Health Impact Report.

The report states that Adventist Health is selling so that it can “preserve capital to make seismic and other improvements at its other hospitals” and that it is unlikely for any buyer to purchase the building and commit to the hospital’s $82 million seismic improvements, to be completed by 2013.

Other hospital sources told La Prensa San Diego they feel Prime CEO Prem Reddy is setting up a plotted bankruptcy in order to sell off the property for non-hospital purposes.

“I think the person who’s buying [the hospital] has a reputation for buying land and selling it,” says National City Councilman Luis Natividad, who attended the Monday night vigil. “If you’re a business person and want to make money, that’s okay, but what if in five years, he wants to sell it off?”

Natividad has recently been an outspoken critic of the sale, but says he may be doing so against the wishes of the AG’s office. He claims a letter was sent to council members from the Attorney General to remain silent about the issue.

National City Mayor Ron Morrison, who’s received community criticism for not publicly stating his opinion, says he’s not aware of the letter, but said that the city attorney’s office has advised council members to stray from openly taking sides or face possible lawsuits from the parties involved in the sale.

“Because it is a private sale, the city cannot get involved,” Morrison said. He previously signed a letter to the Attorney General’s office regarding a number of concerns, along with Congressman Bob Filner, San Diego District 8 Councilman Ben Hueso, Supervisor Greg Cox and Senator Denise Ducheny. Another was to be released this week.

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