Livermore council orders more study on local healthcare initiative

Proposal backed by Stanford Health union seeks to limit charges from hospitals

Healthcare workers, physicians and hospital representatives packed the Livermore City Council meeting hall last month to make competing comments on an initiative that would require local regulation of healthcare service costs.

The council moved June 25 to prepare an informational report on the initiative to explore its potential impacts before any further action on the proposed ballot measure -- which was also the subject of a signature collection drive for a similar initiative in Pleasanton that didn't materialize.

SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, backed by some members who work for Stanford Health Care, drafted the initiative that seeks to limit local healthcare charges to 115% of the "reasonable cost of direct patient care."

The regulations would apply to all local healthcare providers in Livermore and would be overseen by the city government. The initiative aims to reduce patients' overall healthcare spending and ensure that a significant portion of revenues are used to improve the quality of care, according to its backers.

According to various comments from the healthcare workers last month, the current cost of care at Stanford Health -- which oversees the Tri-Valley's ValleyCare Health System -- is not on par with the quality of care, prompting the introduction of this initiative.

Workers and SEIU representatives referred to a 2018 report by The Leapfrog Group, in which both Stanford Health Care and ValleyCare Health System received a C-grade on hospital safety, due to the high rates of hospital-acquired infections.

"I've seen the care at Stanford decline. They've changed from patient-centered care to an assembly line mentality, not just with patients but also with hospital staff," said Linda Cornell, a Stanford Hospital employee. "Patients deserve better. Stanford needs to reinvest in its workforce to help decrease its infection rates."

However, many physicians and hospital representatives expressed concern about the effect the initiative may have on medical providers in the area and the consequential access to care.

"This initiative places the city of Livermore in the unusual position of having to navigate the complexities of our healthcare system," said Rebecca Rosen, the regional vice president of the Hospital Council in East Bay. "If this initiative passes, many providers might choose to limit their services or relocate and new healthcare providers would certainly think twice about relocating to Livermore."

The SEIU-affiliated Stanford Health Care workers collected more than 8,000 petition signatures from Livermore citizens in support of the initiative.

According to the Elections Code, the council members are required to consider the initiative for either immediate adoption, adoption on the upcoming midterm ballot, or, as they chose on June 25, further exploration of impacts through an informational report. After the report is prepared, the council will vote to either adopt the initiative immediately or place it on the upcoming ballot for local vote in November.

A similar initiative is slated to appear on the city of Palo Alto's ballot, and another that qualified in Emeryville is on hold as the city is challenging the legality of a union proposal. Currently, no California city has a similar healthcare service cost oversight.

"I'm confident that if it's on the ballot, it'll pass," said Olga Hurtado, a Stanford Hospital employee. "You're (the medical providers) not concerned about the city; you're concerned about your pockets, and making money off the patients. It's not fair."

Editor's note: Anumita Kaur is a freelance writer for the Pleasanton Weekly.

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