The one thing certain about the dispute between Marin General Hospital and Sutter Health over nearly $160 million transferred out of the county since 2002 is that both sides are passionate about what they believe.

Marin General contends it was robbed. Sutter, meanwhile, says it was only doing what it always has done for the hospitals it is contracted to operate: It moves dollars from one entity to another based on need.

An examination of state records by Business Journal Staff Writer Dan Verel published last week demonstrated how Sutter has moved hundreds of millions over more than a decade. In fact, according to official figures from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, Sutter has routinely moved money from hospital to hospital across the Bay Area.

Yes, Sutter moved $156 million from Marin General from 2002 through 2009.

But although some critics of Sutter contended that during much of that same period the health provider did not take a penny out of California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, state records show otherwise. The records show that $492 million was transferred out of California Pacific from 2002 to 2008.

Meanwhile, Sonoma County has been subsidized by other Sutter hospitals, with more than $86 million transferred into Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa from 2002 to 2008, according to state health records. 

In other words, the strong were subsidizing the weak, which is one of the benefits of contracting with a large hospital network.

Marin General officials counter that there was more than the equity transfers. They say Sutter left the hospital with unusually low capital levels and cut back on technology and other investments once the Sacramento health care provider knew it would be leaving Marin General.

For its part, Sutter said it would have paid for hundreds of millions of dollars in required seismic work for the hospital if it had been allowed to continue to operate the facility.

Now on its own, Marin General faces the daunting task of raising the hundreds of millions of dollars, some of it in voter-approved bonds, to complete seismic upgrades by 2015.

Marin residents clearly need a strong acute-care hospital like Marin General. But it’s become clear it has come at a very high cost.