A medically sound decision: Santa Clara County made right call in acquiring troubled hospitals

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By Rod Diridon, Sr.​

April 8, 2020

A year ago, three significant healthcare facilities — San Jose’s O’Connor Hospital, Gilroy’s St. Louise Regional Hospital, and Morgan Hill’s De Paul Health Center — were threatened with bankruptcy and closure. Had that occurred, the deluge of COVID-19 emergency patients and last year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting casualties would not have had access to timely treatment.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith, and County Counsel James Williams acted decisively, successfully countering roadblocks from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to acquire those assets. The county quickly upgraded and then integrated those three important medical facilities into Santa Clara County’s comprehensive health and hospital system. The result is a system that’s second to none, that offers healthcare capacity for the county’s two million residents that is comprehensive geographically and clinically.

To supplement Valley Medical Center in the venerable Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System, the county invested $235 million to purchase and $170 million for state-of-the-art upgrades integrated the three new medical facilities. The efforts created three licensed acute care hospitals supported by over 50 service and training centers county wide.

The fortuitous result is that the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in our Valley is led by the county’s health and hospital system with 1,048 licensed acute care beds supported by 7,600 skilled professional staff. Led by Valley Medical Center CEO Paul Lorenz, those doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are our courageous front line warriors in this battle for survival.

And those teaching hospitals, with Stanford professors guiding medical interns from the world’s best universities, serve the Valley’s elite while also serving all patients, regardless of their ability to pay. That remarkable capacity is supported by an annual budget of $2.47 billion of which nearly 80 percent is covered by fees paid for by users and their insurers.

As reported in Jody Meacham’s fine “Time to Fight” article in the current edition of the Silicon Valley Business Journal, the county took the Santa Clara Convention Center and turned into a temporary medical facility. There, officials installed 250 non-acute beds, which will allow recovering COVID-19 patients to be shifted from the acute hospitals. That thoughtful advanced planning was guided by, among others, Dr. Sara Cody — the county’s chief health officer, who has led the regional medical response planning.

The added convalescent care capacity, which opened for business Monday, makes the Valley’s hospitals’ rapidly filling acute-care beds available to the influx of critically ill and very contagious new COVID-19 sufferers.

The county’s investment to acquire the three hospitals last year was a bargain then and a stroke of genius now, in light of current events. We’re as ready as anywhere in the world to fight and win against COVID19. Indeed, we have a world-class hospital system for a world-class region.

About the author: Rod Diridon Sr. sits on the Silicon Valley Ethics Roundtable. A longtime advocate for public transit and environmental policies, Diridon served five terms on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and was its chairman six times.

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