Lawmakers Take Shot at Prime

A contingency of 18 Democratic California lawmakers urged Attorney General Kamala Harris on Thursday to block the sale of six hospitals to Ontario-based Prime Healthcare, citing concerns that “under Prime, patient care and healthcare worker rights will suffer at these hospitals.”

The letter from lawmakers to Harris refers to Prime’s bid to purchase six hospitals in the Catholic nonprofit Daughters of Charity Health System, a move that has been opposed by the powerful Service Employees International Union — United Healthcare Workers West.

The hospitals have been losing $10 million a month since the beginning of the year, officials said.

“Our biggest concern is Prime’s history of unfair business practices that have resulted in civil and criminal investigations by government agencies for allegedly overbilling Medicare as well as violations of patient confidentiality,” reads the letter, which is signed by members of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation.

Prime spokesman Edward Barrera said Thursday that the support for Prime’s bid is overwhelming and comes from those who matter most: Patients, physicians, nurses and community members.

“If SEIU, and the politicians who it has misinformed, succeed in derailing this acquisition,” Barrera said, “it would be tragic for these hospitals, the employees who work there and the communities they serve.”

Prime CEO Dr. Prem Reddy met with the Daily Press earlier this week at Prime’s flagship Desert Valley Hospital, where he pointed to the sale’s support from Daughters of Charity CEO Robert Issai as well as the California Nurses Association and SEIU Local 121RN unions.

CNA Co-President Zenei Cortez, RN, said Thursday that “nurses will not be silent in the face of this emergency” at DCHS hospitals.

“Those who oppose this sale without offering an alternative that would protect our patients and our communities are putting everyone at risk,” Cortez said in a statement.

RNs and nuns will hold a vigil Friday at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose to rally support for Daughters of Charity hospitals, CNA officials said.

In a move that could provide some precedent, however, Harris rejected Prime’s bid in 2011 to buy Victor Valley Community Hospital, concluding only that the sale would not be in the public interest.

Reddy said he believed SEIU-UHW was largely to blame for Harris’ decision, noting the power the union has among Democratic lawmakers in the state.

In acquiring the Daughters of Charity hospitals, Prime has pledged to assume all collective bargaining agreements and full pension liabilities; keep the system out of bankruptcy and all hospitals open; and spend at least $150 million in capital improvements at DCHS hospitals over the next three years.

A decision by Harris isn’t expected until the spring.

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