CALISTOGA — Nearly 100 people attended a public meeting in Calistoga on Wednesday to discuss a proposed partnership between the health care networks that operate Queen of the Valley Medical Center and Adventist Health St. Helena.
Health care executives and doctors from St. Joseph Health and Adventist Health said the transaction would enhance patient care, give patients more options, help hospitals recruit and retain good doctors, and drive collaboration and innovation.
“It is not a merger or an acquisition,” said Jeff Eller, president of Adventist Health’s Northern California region. “The joint operating company will allow us to collaborate and improve the health outcomes of those that we mutually serve.”
“I believe this partnership will ensure we can better adapt to an ever-changing health care landscape and help us to fulfill our vision of health for a better world,” said Larry Coomes, chief executive of St. Joseph Health-Queen of the Valley Medical Center.
The proposed joint operating company, ST Network LLC, would operate the Queen, Adventist Health St. Helena, and seven other hospitals in Lake, Sonoma, Solano, Mendocino and Humboldt counties.
Five years into the partnership, Adventist Health St. Helena plans to renovate the hospital to comply with modern seismic requirements.
“At such time, the hospital will likely close its obstetrics and behavioral health units and convert its existing facility or replace it with a 30-bed specialty-oriented hospital that is primarily focused on the hospital’s core strengths in the areas of emergency services, cardiology, cardiac surgery, oncology, and orthopedics,” according to a consultant’s report.
Wednesday’s public meeting was the last of six called by the California State Attorney General’s office, which will determine whether the partnership is in the public interest and whether it would adversely affect patient care. The office can approve the proposed Master Formation Agreement, reject it, or approve it with conditions.
A consultant recommended that if the transaction is approved, Adventist Health St. Helena, Adventist Health Vallejo and Adventist Health Clearlake should be required to maintain all key services – including psychiatric, perinatal and intensive care services – for at least 10 years and maintain charity care and community benefit services for at least five years.
Referring to the partnership as a merger, members of the California Nurses Association and the National Union of Healthcare Workers said all essential services at the affected hospitals should be required to continue for at least 15 years. They also pushed for more analysis of how the transaction would affect patients and for assurances that the new organization would respect workers’ rights to organize for collective bargaining purposes.
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Ian Seldin, a labor representative for the California Nurses Association, said he’s concerned about the impact on accessibility and availability of patient care, as well as the “deeply anti-worker, anti-union principles espoused by … Adventist Health,” which is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The church has historically discouraged its members from joining unions, and in 1998 opposed efforts by nurses in Ukiah to organize.
“If we are to understand that God somehow prevents an Adventist organization from following the federal laws regarding labor unions, what expectation can we all have that this Adventist health corporation will not use God to claim an exemption from any other state or federal law?” Seldin said.
Union members also criticized St. Joseph Health for falling short of its charity care obligations. They said the attorney general’s office should conduct a fresh analysis of both providers instead of relying on a previous study of St. Joseph Health that was conducted when it merged with Providence Health in 2016.
“In Napa County, where this merger will create a near 87 percent market share for the newly merged company, the two organizations are already talking publicly about the closure or consolidation of important services such as mental health, cardiology and family birthing,” said Karen McNair, a nurse and vice chair of the professional practices committee at the Queen.
Representatives of St. Joseph Health and Adventist Health said hospitals would retain their separate faith ministries – Catholic at the St. Joseph hospitals and Seventh-day Adventist at the Adventist Health hospitals.
Father William McIlmoyl of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Calistoga said both organizations are committed to providing care for all, especially the marginalized. He said a collaboration between St. Joseph Health and Adventist Health would have been unthinkable 50 years ago.
“These two institutions would have had nothing to talk about really – theologically, you name it,” said McIlmoyl, whose daughter is an intensive care nurse at Adventist Health St. Helena. “The fact that they are in conversation about how to better serve the community I think sends an interesting message in a world that’s too often divided.”
St. Helena’s Jim Gamble serves on the board of the St. Helena Hospital Foundation and several other boards connected with Adventist Health. He said people often ask him why the two networks didn’t team up sooner because “it makes sense on so many different levels.”
“I also hear, ‘Do we really need two hospitals in Napa County?’” Gamble said. “My answer is always absolutely we need two hospitals, but there is certainly a more thoughtful way for the hospitals to operate in order to enhance and optimize health care services for every person in the Napa County community.”
Comments on the proposed partnership may be emailed to Deputy Attorney General Scott Chan at firstname.lastname@example.org.