Contention surrounds sale of six California Catholic hospitals

Opponents and supporters of the pending sale of six Catholic hospitals in California to Prime Healthcare Services escalated their actions and their rhetoric this week as the February deadline nears for the state's attorney general to rule on the sale.

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), headquartered in Oakland, leads the opposition, saying that Prime has a poor record of living up to its promises when buying other hospitals and that another, more viable buyer is available. They enlisted 18 California members of the U.S. House of Representatives to sign a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Dec. 11, asking her to reject the sale because "under Prime, patient care and healthcare work rights will suffer at these hospitals."

The Daughters of Charity Health System (DCHS), which owns the six hospitals, says the sale to Prime is the only way to keep the hospitals open. Together, the four hospitals in northern California and two in southern California are running a monthly debt of $10 million, a cost DCHS says is not sustainable.

The search for a buyer was announced in February. Out of 130 health systems expressing initial interest, the DCHS board selected four finalists. Robert Issai, DCHS president and CEO, said only Prime met all the board's criteria.

According to DCHS, Prime has agreed to keep the hospitals open, to accept full responsibility for the pensions of the 17,000 union and nonunion workers and retirees, to honor all union contracts, invest $150 million in capital improvements and new equipment, and continue the charity care that has been a key mission of the hospitals.

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