Daly City council seeks attorney general review in sale of Seton Medical Center 

Citing concerns that Seton Medical Center might reduce services and some workers may be laid off under new ownership, Daly City’s City Council has unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution asking state Attorney General Kamala Harris to review any potential sale of the hospital.

Seton, which was founded as Mary’s Help Hospital in 1893, is part of the Daughters of Charity Health System, a family of six California health care facilities that the nonprofit Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul is selling due to financial difficulties.

In recent months, some Seton employees have been campaigning for guarantees that their jobs, seniority and benefits will remain intact after the impending sale. Equally important, they say, is obtaining assurances that potential buyers won’t close departments or abandon the mostly low-income patient population the hospital currently serves.

Under state law, any sale of a hospital operated by a nonprofit organization is subject to review by the attorney general, who can require the continuation of existing service levels.

Employee bargaining groups at the medical center have an ally in Mayor David Canepa, who introduced the council resolution and has previously participated in a labor demonstration in front of the hospital.

Although the resolution was adopted, it did not pass without some debate. In a conversation with The San Francisco Examiner prior to the vote, Councilman Mike Guingona said Canepa was demanding things the Daughters of Charity already supported, and doing so might damage the city’s relationship with the health care provider, whom he said has negotiated in good faith with city officials and labor representatives.

At the suggestion of Councilman Sal Torres, the resolution’s wording was changed so that some requests for specific concessions were replaced with language simply asking Harris to ensure that any buyer exhibit the same commitment to the community that its current owners have shown. The reconfigured resolution passed unanimously.

Harris did not respond to a request for comment regarding the measure.

Daughters of Charity Health System spokeswoman Elizabeth Nikels noted if the sale process is delayed or vetoed by the attorney general, that could jeopardize the very jobs, pensions and patient services the council seeks to protect.

Nikels said finding a buyer that would continue to serve Seton’s low-income patients without eliminating services was a top priority. The owners are additionally seeking a buyer that is financially stable enough to protect Seton and its sister hospitals from bankruptcy proceedings, and one that is willing to invest in capital-improvement projects along with having a solid track record of running hospitals in California, she said.

“We are acting in the best interest of our associates, physicians and the community,” Nikels said.

The mayor said the resolution doesn’t imply a lack of faith in the medical center’s current owners, but is a necessary statement of the community’s needs and the council’s position to preserve a longstanding community resource.

“What we’re saying is that while we recognize and appreciate the great work the Daughters of Charity have done, the people of north San Mateo County who depend on that hospital need to know it’s still going to be there for them,” Canepa noted.

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