Hospital deal takes a bad turn

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The Petaluma Health Care District cannot catch a break in its ongoing saga to find the next operator for Petaluma Valley Hospital.

The latest chapter was closed last month when the state attorney general denied a combination of St. Joseph Health and Adventist Health. The health care district had signed a letter of intent to work with the new combined company on a longterm lease for the hospital that would have included millions of dollars in investments in the aging facility.

Now that the deal has been canceled, the district is back to square one.

A quick summary of how we got here. St. Joseph has operated Petaluma’s lone hospital on a 20-year lease that expired in 2017. The district, which owns the hospital, negotiated with St. Joseph to extend the lease, but those talks broke down over financial terms, and because the Catholic health care company refused to continue providing women’s reproductive health services.

The district launched a search for a new operator, received three underwhelming bids, and selected the best of the bunch, Paladin Healthcare of Southern California. It soon became apparent that Paladin was not willing or able to invest in the adequate technology needed to run the hospital and they pulled out.

The St. Joseph-Adventist combined new company seemed like the perfect solution. St. Joseph won’t do female reproductive health, but Adventist will. Adventist doesn’t work with union hospitals like Petaluma Valley, but St. Joseph does. It’s unfortunate that this partnership failed.

The district now has signaled an intent to reengage with St. Joseph, who has continued to operate the hospital on an interim basis under the terms of the old lease. But, unless St. Joseph’s directives have changed, women’s reproductive health could still be a sticking point.

The main service on the table is tubal ligations, a family planning procedure of female sterilization. This should not be something the district can compromise. Conservative Catholic values have no place in a publicly-owned hospital. Unless St. Joseph, which has been a good steward of Petaluma Valley over the years, is willing to continue the service, the district needs to move on and find a new partner.

Considering the lackluster bids the district received the last time, though, that may be easier said than done.

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