Health district board welcomes new faces, debates future

Health district board welcomes new faces, debates future

Michele Ellson
Alameda Health Care District Board

Alameda Health Care District Board members Kathryn Sáenz Duke, Tracy Jensen and Jim Meyers take the oath of office Monday. Photo by Michele Ellson.

The Alameda Health Care District Board welcomed a new member and a new Alameda Hospital administrator on Monday, before launching into a spirited discussion about its future in the wake of an affiliation deal that handed day to day management of the hospital to Alameda County’s public health system.

Newcomer Jim Meyers officially joined the board Monday, taking the oath of office with Tracy Jensen and Robert Deutsch, who were re-elected to fresh, four-year board terms in November. Kathryn Sáenz Duke, who won a temporary appointment to the board in July, was also sworn in after running unopposed for another two years on the board.

Bonnie Panlasigui was selected by Alameda Health System officials to serve as the hospital’s chief administrative officer in late October, replacing longtime Chief Executive Officer Deborah E. Stebbins. Panlasigui, who served most recently as chief operating officer of Dupont Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was introduced to the public at Monday’s meeting.

Alameda Health System took over management of Alameda Hospital in May, but the local board is still charged with overseeing the relationship and also, with ensuring that $6 million in annual parcel taxes stay here on the Island. Jensen is Alameda’s representative on the system’s 13-member board of trustees.

Panlasigui and other health system administrators laid out plans Monday for making long-overdue seismic upgrades to the hospital and paying down tens of millions of dollars in overdue bills – efforts the local board no longer directly oversees. But as talk turned to plans for a future discussion of what board president J. Michael McCormick called “the new direction this district board should be having since we are not running a hospital anymore,” members offered different ideas about what that role could be.

“Our mission is to support Alameda Hospital,” said Robert Deutsch, who is a doctor and the board’s longest serving member. “We can ask the public for ideas to supplement that.”

Meyers, a consultant and former health system administrator who is the board’s newest member, took a more expansive view of the board’s potential role that included looking for grants and other funding to support the hospital.

“There are 30-some-odd districts with no hospitals that provide advocacy for the communities that they serve,” Meyers said, referring to California health care districts that don’t operate hospitals.

Panlasigui and the system’s chief financial officer, David Cox, offered some preliminary information on their plans to cut costs and boost revenues at Alameda Hospital and across Alameda Health System. The hospital is seeing new surgery and other referrals from Oakland’s Highland Hospital, and Panlasigui said it could boost its orthopedic and geriatric service lines.

“I guarantee you that a year from now, we will be in a hundred percent different situation. We’ll be booming with business,” said Panlasigui. “I think this is a very exciting time for Alameda Hospital.”

The administrators said they expect to erase $17 million in bills that are 120 days or more overdue by the end of the month; state approval for a $4 million plan to move the hospital’s kitchen to an earthquake safe building could come in early 2015, with construction completed in 2018, Panlasigui said.

Cox also offered a list of priorities for taming the system’s $162 million debt with Alameda County, which extended a line of credit to the health system years ago to help stabilize its finances. The debt was to be pared down to $110 million by this past summer; health system administrators reportedly blamed the troubled rollout of a new electronic health records system and costs associated with the system’s acquisition of and affiliation with San Leandro and Alameda hospitals for their failure to reach that goal. The county has capped the amount the health system can borrow at $195 million.

Cox, who joined the system as its chief financial officer in July, said the debt should be reduced to $150 million by next summer, and he said hospital officials, who will start work on a new budget in January, will also be negotiating with the county to address the health system’s pension debt and payments on its new facilities. Health system officials hope to cut costs by $80 million over the next four years; efforts to boost revenue include tighter pre-approval and billing procedures and an updated “charge master” that includes services the hospital had been performing but wasn’t able to bill for.

The system also recently named a new chief operating officer, and it is searching for a new chief executive to replace Wright Lassiter III, who is leaving this month to take over the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Daniel Boggan, a former board trustee with experience in city management, is taking the helm as acting chief executive while the search is conducted.