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Publication Date: Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Sequoia Hospital seeks new site Sequoia Hospital seeks new site (February 05, 2003)

** Sequoia board agrees new facilities needed; hopes to move hospital closer to freeway corridor.

By Renee Batti
Almanac News Editor

Sequoia Hospital officials have decided that rebuilding the community hospital on a new site is a better course than retrofitting the existing, 53-year-old facility in Redwood City.

The 10-member Sequoia Health Services board, which governs the hospital, voted unanimously January 27 to accept the staff recommendation to rebuild the hospital, pursue negotiations for a new site near the U.S 101 freeway corridor, and, if a new site is found, sell the existing site on Alameda de las Pulgas at Whipple Avenue.

The hospital's private, nonprofit owner is under the gun because of a state mandate to either seismically retrofit the facilities or build a new hospital by the end of 2008.

Under a plan presented by Glenna Vaskelis, the hospital's chief executive officer, and accepted in concept by the board, the new facility would have better accessibility, and would be better equipped to meet health services needs in the 21st century. It would also have fewer beds -- about 150 instead of the roughly 420 licensed beds it now has.

The cost is estimated at about $175 million in both public and private funds. The new hospital might open as early as 2009. If the old site -- appraised at about $18 million -- is sold, that money would be put toward the new hospital, according to Ms. Vaskelis.

Ms. Vaskelis said several sites are being considered. Although she declined to specify the sites, she said all were in Redwood City within 4 miles of the existing hospital.

Formerly operated by the tax-payer funded Sequoia Hospital District -- now the Sequoia Healthcare District -- Sequoia Hospital was sold to Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) in 1996. It is owned and operated by Sequoia Health Services (SHS), a partnership governed by a board composed of five members appointed by CHW and five appointed by the publicly elected members of the district board. Board members typically appoint themselves; at this point, four of the five elected district board members -- all but newcomer Jack Hickey -- sit on the SHS board.

The district includes Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside, Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont and nearby unincorporated areas.

In 1996, the elected district board members decided that changes in the health-care world were making it financially infeasible to continue operating a public hospital -- the hospital was between $26 million and $29 million in debt at the time. The district asked voters to approve the sale to the private, nonprofit CHW.

The sale was approved at the polls, and the sales agreement included a $30 million price tag and the stipulation that the district would provide oversight over the hospital through its participation on the SHS governing board. CHW signed a 30-year agreement to operate the hospital.

The district was criticized by the last two San Mateo County Civil Grand Juries for continuing to collect property taxes after selling the hospital. But district defenders argued that the district was continuing its mission to ensure accessible health services in the community through grants given to the hospital and other nonprofit health-related organizations, and through oversight of the hospital.

They also argued that the money collected through taxes and leases on several district-owned buildings provides insurance against a hospital closure should CHW go bankrupt or pull out of its agreement to operate Sequoia. Also, they noted, the state-mandated seismic upgrade is likely to cost well upwards of $100 million -- a cost CHW may not be able to bear.

Under Sequoia's proposal, the partnership with the district would assume a different structure: The Sequoia Healthcare District would pay for the land and the construction of the new hospital, and the district and the hospital would jointly finance the purchase of equipment. CHW would continue to operate the hospital, but would lease the facility from the district.

Dr. Gerald Shefren, president of the health-care district, noted that the district board has not voted on the plan, and that the project "is in a very preliminary planning stage -- there's much more work that must be done." But the plan to build a new facility, with some financial assistance from the district, reflects a strategic direction supported by the district board, he said.

He stressed that many public meetings will be held to "involve the community at a very early stage."

The next meeting of the Sequoia Healthcare District board is set for February 19. The board will be asked to approve the final version of the strategic plan it has worked on for many months, and will "look at what additional information the board may need" to decide on the district's specific role in building the new hospital, Dr. Shefren said.



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