Plans to merge ValleyCare Health System and its Pleasanton medical center into Stanford University health care system are proceeding on schedule although the final combination could take a number of months to complete.
John Sensiba, chairman of the ValleyCare board of directors, said its "corporate members" soon will vote on the merger proposition. Their approval would be a major step in freeing the board to move forward with the proposal.
ValleyCare, which was established in 1961, has grown from a small hospital in Livermore into a comprehensive health system with medical facilities in Livermore and Dublin, as well as Pleasanton. But over the last five years, it has lost an average of $3.5 million a year, with a whopping $86 million in outstanding debt.
By merging with Stanford, ValleyCare could continue to deliver high quality health care in the Tri-Valley amid fierce and growing competition for patients and services from other larger groups, Sensiba said.
In a meeting with corporate members, who are supporters who buy a membership to become part of a voting assembly dating back to the health system's startup, Sensiba and ValleyCare's new chief executive Scott Gregerson vowed to stop the losses as the merger agreement moves forward.
Because of its heavy debt load, continuing competition from financially-strong hospital groups, such as John Muir in Walnut Creek, Palo Alto Medical Clinic, Kaiser Permanente and Summit-owned medical centers, Sensiba said, "We issued requests for merger proposals to a number of potential partners."
Under non-disclosure agreements, I can't reveal who they were except to say Stanford won," Sensiba said.
The annual meeting offers up-to-date information about ValleyCare and is also a social event for corporate members, some who have been active supporters of the hospital, including several at the meeting who joined 40 and 50 years ago.
For that reason, the members come early for refreshments and conversation, and the meeting, itself, is more festive and conversational than a typical corporate annual meeting with ample time allowed for questions, comments and introductions.
Still, there was a sense of finality to the gathering with a number of questions about who will "own" ValleyCare after the merger, what will become of the ValleyCare Medical Foundation and its physician members, and how will ValleyCare's 1,400 employees fare under the merger plan.
For the most part, Sensiba said details of the merger are still being worked out.
"We want to stay as a community hospital," he said. "We want the hospital to stay here. It's just too early to talk about eventual ownership and management."
After gaining approval from corporate members, Sensiba said Stanford still has to finalize the deal and then there will be state, federal and medical agencies involved in the process before Stanford takes over.
In the meantime, he and Gregerson will be focused on continuing to trim expenses and get operating costs in line with revenue.
"Health care issues are evolving very quickly and we have to evolve with them," he said.
Earlier, in remarks to the Rotary Club of Pleasanton, Gregerson said the Stanford-ValleyCare merger could be similar to what happened when Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore came to the rescue of Sibley Memorial Hospital in northwest Washington, D.C., which was in a similar financial situation. Sibley retained its identity with more medical services now available in the community it serves.
Also at the annual meeting, Deborah McKeehan, former Pleasanton city manager and a ValleyCare board member since 2005, stepped down due to trem limits. Thanking her for her service, Sensiba then introduced Dale Kaye, who took McKeehan's board seat at the meeting.
At Sensiba's request. McKeehan will stay on the board as a volunteer consultant to assist in the potential merger.
Kaye, former CEO and president of the Livermore Chamber of Commerce, is now director of Innovation Tri-Valley, a collaboration among business leaders in Pleasanton, Danville, Dublin, Livermore and San Ramon.