Dan Walters

Dan Walters: A 'hearing' that was a charade

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

The Bee published a lengthy article recently about the proliferation of special committees in the state Senate that rarely, if ever, meet, just as rarely produce worthwhile research and appear to exist mainly to give senators extra, off-the-books staff.

Bee reporter Jim Sanders spent many hours poring through Senate documents, looking – mostly in vain – for evidence that the special committees serve some valid public purpose.

As it happens, one of those special Senate committees – grandiosely named the Senate Select Committee on Charity Care and Nonprofit Hospitals – met last week. But the session appeared to be no more worthwhile than the non-activities of the non-meeting committees Sanders chronicled.

Ostensibly, its chairwoman, San Leandro Democrat Ellen Corbett, called the hearing to delve into whether the state's nonprofit hospitals have been delivering adequate amounts of charity care to communities.

However, three of the six witnesses that Corbett invited to testify represented the California Nurses Association, while the California Hospital Association was denied any representation on the "panels" of witnesses.

Corbett lavished praise on the nurses union for helping organize the supposedly objective hearing, and the CNA's representatives used their multiple opportunities to excoriate big nonprofit chains such as Sutter and Kaiser for allegedly failing to provide sufficient charity care.

Only at the very end of the hearing, during the so-called "public testimony," was the hospital association's vice president, Anne McLeod, allowed to present less than three minutes of defense for the industry's record on charity care.

A Corbett aide has insisted that nonprofit hospitals were invited to testify, but apparently she was insisting on somebody from one hospital, not somebody from the umbrella hospital association.

The hearing was, in other words, stacked, and the hospital association rightly labeled it as a "sham."

So what was really happening?

Fundamentally, Corbett was staging the hearing to give the nurses union an opportunity to score rhetorical points on two hospital chains with which it has rocky contract relationships in recent months.

It's part of a larger CNA-backed strategy of attacking hospitals' public standing on such ancillary issues as infection rates and administrators' salaries in hopes, one would assume, that the hospitals would give it more favorable contract terms.

The CNA is also a steady contributor of funds to Democrats and their causes, such as raising taxes, which makes politicians willing participants in the union's propaganda campaign.

But the Senate Select Committee on Charity Care and Nonprofit Hospitals, like all those other special committees, is consuming the public's tax money.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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