North Bay Business Journal

Wednesday, September 29, 2010, 8:04 pm

Health care district formally announces lawsuit to block new Sutter hospital


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    HEALDSBURG — The North Sonoma County Healthcare District tonight at its board meeting formally announced its lawsuit to stop development of Sutter Health’s proposed new hospital next to the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts.

    The health care district, which oversees operations at Healdsburg District Hospital, is the lead plaintiff among a group that opposes Sutter’s new, 82-bed hospital on the grounds that the environmental impact report approved by Sonoma County was “flawed and fragmented.”

    “All parties of the suit believe there are serious flaws and problems with the project’s approval and its associated environmental documents,” said health care district counsel William Arnone, reading from a statement issued at the meeting. “The issues encompass General Plan consistency, compliance with County of Sonoma codes, confusion regarding the size and scope of the project, inconsistencies in how environmental and socioeconomic impacts are assessed, conflicts with locating the use outside of the city [of Santa Rosa] and more.”

    Joining the health care district in the suit is Palm Drive Healthcare District, which oversees operations at Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol; the California Nurses Association; and a San Rafael-based anti-sprawl group, Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund.

    Sonoma County and the Board of Supervisors are listed as defendants, and Sutter as a party of interest. However, Sutter will foot most of the cost in defending the hospital plan.

    The health care district also took issue with the county’s approval of Sutter’s plan under the 1996 Health Care Access Agreement, brokered between the county and Sutter after it took over operations at the former Community Hospital on Chanate Road.

    “The project was pushed forward to ensure compliance with the Health Care Access Agreement and provide charity and indigent services,” Healdsburg officials said. “What was never examined is that the Health Care Access Agreement will expire within five years of the opening of the new hospital. The unknown health care and environmental implications of this issue alone require further review.”

    The suit, filed Sept. 22 in Sonoma County Superior Court [see also "Critics file suit against new Sutter hospital"], also says Sutter’s new hospital could lead to district hospitals being severely undermined or possibly even shuttered, and that the county, in approving the $284 million project, failed to take into account what the health and environmental impacts would be on such hospitals.

    The plan was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors for both land use entitlements and the County Health Care Access Agreement, which requires Sutter provide a certain level of care to the uninsured and indigent populations of the county. The element required approval by Sonoma County Health and Human Services, which did so in July.

    Sutter said it is confident that it will prevail in court, and construction has already begun at the site off of Mark West Road.

    The full text of the filing can be read here.

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