Yes on CC for Petaluma Valley Hospital

Last month, the Petaluma Health Care District proposed selling its largest asset, Petaluma Valley Hospital. At that time, we said we were supportive of the sale. It is unfortunate that the public would lose control of the community’s hospital, but it seemed like the only way to ensure the long-term viability of the facility.

Since then, the district has prepared a ballot measure asking voters to approve the sale to NorCal HealthConnect, the secular affiliate of Providence St. Joseph. Voters will see this issue as Measure CC on the November ballot.

After weighing the pros and cons of selling the hospital, we endorse Measure CC for the future survival of Petaluma Valley Hospital. Small publicly-owned hospitals have been unable to survive in the current climate.

The proposed sale, of the 80-bed hospital, is the end result of a five year process to find a long-term operator, a process that showed there are not many good options out there.

The original plan, to renew St. Joseph’s 20-year lease, fell apart for several reasons. The health care district opened up the process to other operators, but big players in the regional healthcare landscape took a pass on the hospital. The best option, southern California-based Paladin Healthcare, was unwilling to invest in Petaluma Valley Hospital.

It’s clear that the only option that ensures the continued survival of the hospital is to sell to NorCal HealthConnect.

The sale would strip the public of Petaluma’s biggest healthcare asset, one that dates back nearly 70 years. The Petaluma Health Care District, a public agency, operated Petaluma General Hospital in 1946 before replacing it with Hillcrest Hospital 10 years later followed by Petaluma Valley in 1980.

But the sale would benefit Petaluma for several reasons. First it would provide the district with an infusion of more than $50 million, which it can use on public health initiatives in Petaluma including homelessness and mental health services, senior care, health education and equal access to healthcare.

Second, the secular operator has agreed to keep providing all services that are currently offered at the hospital. One of the reasons Providence St. Joseph could not agree on a long-term lease was the refusal of the Catholic healthcare provider to offer some female reproductive services like sterilizations. The secular nature of NorCal HealthConnect ensures that religious values do not factor into important healthcare decisions.

Third, NorCal HealthConnect has agreed to keep the hospital and emergency department open for at least 20 years. This is good news for the short term, but it means that the company could eventually close the facility if it is not profitable. As a sign of its commitment to Petaluma, the company has agreed to invest millions in the facility, including replacing the roof and other aging equipment, and making required seismic upgrades.

Overall, the deal is about as good as we can expect for Petaluma Valley Hospital.

The union that represents nurses at Petaluma Valley, which is in tense contract negotiations with the current tenant, does not support the sale. We want the nurses, who are our frontline workers, to feel supported by management. Now that the hospital has a viable future, we hope the two sides can strike a deal that suits the nurses’ needs.

It is clear that there is not a better option that secures the hospital’s future. If voters reject the sale, there is not another operator clamoring to sign a long-term lease, and the district does not have the ability to run the hospital.

The Argus-Courier recommends voting yes on Measure CC to ensure the future of Petaluma Valley Hospital.

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