Capitol Alert

Kamala Harris approves Daughters of Charity hospital sale

In this Nov. 16, 2012 file photo, California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles.
In this Nov. 16, 2012 file photo, California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles. AP

Blessing a proposed hospital sale that has divided powerful health care unions, California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Friday approved Prime Healthcare’s purchase of six nonprofit hospitals comprising the Daughters of Charity Health System.

Per the terms of the sale, Prime Healthcare will operate St. Vincent Medical Center, St. Francis Medical Center, O’Connor Hospital, Saint Louise Regional Hospital, Seton Medical Center and Seton Coastside. A release from Harris called the deal the largest ever overseen by the office, and it carries a hefty set of conditions requiring Prime to provide charity care “at historical levels” and reproductive care without “restriction or limitation”; to spend $150 million on capital improvements at the newly acquired facilities; to cover the pension obligations of 17,000 active and retired employees; and to remain certified to treat Medi-Cal and Medicare patients for a decade.

“The conditions imposed on this sale by the attorney general are extensive, and many are unprecedented,” Prime Healthcare said in a statement.

The company’s push to buy the financially ailing hospitals antagonized SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, a union with over 2,600 workers at the targeted hospitals. Union officials say Prime’s pursuit of profit has come at the expense of workers and involved cutting services, and they have even asked elected officials to refuse campaign contributions from Prime. Last year, the hospital chain refused to sign on to a broad labor agreement negotiated between unions and hospitals.

On the other side of the issue stands the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, whose leaders argue that the fate of the hospitals relies on the sale going through. The organization, which represents around 1,800 nurses working at hospitals on the auction block, has dispatched nurses to lobby lawmakers in Sacramento.

Both sides claimed victory.

“Based on the provisions cited in the attorney general’s statement, we would hope that Prime will comply with these conditions, which will keep the hospitals open just as nurses, nuns, patients and community residents have rallied to achieve,” RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, said in a statement.

In a statement, Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, added: “If Prime lives up to both the letter and spirit of the conditions placed on this sale, community health care and services for low-income families will be protected, but given our history with Prime, that’s a big if.”

Scores of elected officials have opposed the deal, according to a list compiled by SEIU. Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, has carried a bill barring hospitals from calling 911 on intoxicated patients and explicitly called out Prime for doing so.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.