Supervisor Wilma Chan organized a forum last Friday entitled, "" The speakers included Alex Briscoe of the county's health care services, Betty Yee of the state Board of Equalization and Dr. Robert Gregory long time San Leandro physician.
Briscoe relayed some startling facts about the current state of health care in the county. Since 2008 the number of uninsured has risen from 166,000 to over 220,000. We also as a state are last among all states when it comes to emergency room capacity, ranking 51st if you include Puerto Rico.
Betty Yee's presentation, The Welfare Exemption for Nonprofit Hospitals, examined the role of tax exemptions for so called charity hospitals and the concerns we should have about practices unbecoming of a nonprofit. Included are:
- the high CEO salaries;
- minimal provisions for the medically and financially indigent;
- their comparison to for-profit hospitals; the tax exemption included in their for-profit divisions or entities;
- their surplus revenues;
- their aggressive debt collection practices;
- and whether the tax exemption exceeds the benefits to the community.
Dr. Gregory argued that the hospitals ER was very busy and that to close the ER would be catastrophic for San Leandro especially the city's aging population.
Numerous local citizens made public comments. Many seniors were visibly frightened about their future in a city without and ER.
I also made a few comments mostly about the high CEO compensation. I mentioned Jamie Dimon the CEO of JP Morgan who had to testify in Congress the previous week about his companies $2 billion recent loss. When asked on several occasions about his compensation package, he repeatedly replied " I don't determine my compensation, my board determines my compensation."
Had legislators been more familiar with this issue they might have asked the follow up question "who appoints the board," which is Dimon and in most cases the CEO. The sleazy quid pro quo between corporate boards and the CEOs is why executive compensation continues to skyrocket while wages for the rest of America has remained flat for decades.
I also mentioned the ongoing tragedy and abuse by charity hospitals regarding the uninsured. The whole thing seems Orwellian, that a so-called charity hospital can charge the uninsured not a normally high fee but double what insured patients pay. This is close to being a form of medical waterborading of the poor. For this crime charity hospitals should not only lose their non-profit status but should lose their citizenship and licensee to practice medicine. The courts of counties across the country are filled, day in day out, with collection lawyer suing the poor and garnishing their wages. And by night they're on the phone intimidating, insulting, scaring these same unfortunate victims of a money-driven health care system.
I should also add that they "cook the books" regarding their expenses by charging this double fee on the poor. In a country that seems to be based on elite immunity from punishment , exaggerating the loses by overcharging the poor, using that phony information as their rationale to close down a hospital that serves 200,000 people seems like a major crime against thousands of people. The law to put it bluntly is in shambles.
I applaud Wilma Chan for her efforts. In a more perfect world as in Europe, many corporations have workers on their boards, which has had the benefit of keeping CEO compensation in line. Also companies are far less likely to ship their manufacturing overseas when workers have a vote in that decision.
Now might be the time for the Board of Equalization, or a progressive legislator, to look into placing nurses on the boards of Sutter and other charity hospitals. Our communities' best friend may well be a California RN.