A busy year for El Camino Hospital | December 30, 2016 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - December 30, 2016

A busy year for El Camino Hospital

In 2016, hospital eyes expansion to San Jose, dumps CEO, spars with nurses

by Kevin Forestieri

El Camino Hospital spent a lot of time in the spotlight this year, presenting big plans to expand both in and out of Mountain View, ousting its executive leadership and butting heads with its nursing staff over contract negotiations. The dust will hardly settle at the close of 2016 either, as El Camino forges ahead on new construction and searches for a new CEO to guide the community hospital through the coming years.

In June, the Mountain View City Council agreed to allow El Camino Hospital to expand right up to the development limits set in the community hospital's master plan, paving the way for more parking, a new seven-story medical office building and a larger, 36-bed facility for the hospital's behavioral health services. The decision came despite warnings from nearby residents that the traffic along Grant Road — which is sluggish in both directions during commute hours — would get worse as the hospital expects to add 120 new employees.

Since then, the hospital has moved quickly on its roughly $1.1 billion expansion plans, and has already broken ground on the new behavioral health building and the addition to the parking garage that abuts the St. Francis High School campus. Construction is expected to continue through 2018.

But that's not all. El Camino Hospital's board of directors surprised the public in January when they unanimously agreed to purchase nearly 16 acres of undeveloped land in South San Jose, 19 miles away from the Mountain View campus. The hope, according to the board, is that the $45 million land acquisition will help the hospital expand its services and become more financially solvent in a highly competitive health care environment. It's still undecided what kind of medical facilities will ultimately get built on the land.

The hospital's corporate board is made up of nine members, including all five voter-elected members of the El Camino Healthcare District board. The district is a public agency that collects taxes and, by extension, has a stake in operating the hospital itself. Some members of the public questioned whether buying land so far away from the health care district's boundaries — which encompasses Mountain View, Los Altos and much of Sunnyvale — was the best use of the hospital's resources.

Despite having five elected officials discussing the acquisition in closed session, hospital staff maintained that El Camino had no legal obligation to disclose or discuss the land purchase openly with the public, and that decisions on real estate can be conducted in closed session without advanced notice.

The board of directors delivered another big surprise to the public in August, when they agreed during a weekend closed-session meeting not to renew the contract of former hospital president and CEO Tomi Ryba, who officially stepped down at the end of October. Hospital board members have been tight-lipped on the reasons for dropping Ryba, who led the hospital since 2011, informing the public through a press release that both parties were "in agreement" when it came to parting ways.

Just one month later, that same board agreed to give Ryba a $224,000 bonus for her performance as CEO, on top of her $800,300 annual salary, despite the decision not to renew her contract.

Hospital officials are still searching for a permanent successor, and selected interim CEO Donald Sibery to lead the hospital over the next six months. Sibery, a long-time health care consultant from Michigan, scored a contract with El Camino Hospital that includes a $650,000 salary over the life of the contract by way of $50,000 payments every other week; round-trip airfare to Michigan every month; and a furnished apartment at a cost not to exceed $5,000 per month.

For much of 2016, El Camino Hospital grappled with tough negotiations with its nurses' union, the Professional Resource for Nurses (PRN), over the terms of a new three-year contract. The nurses' union argued that lower-than-satisfactory wage increases over the next three years, combined with cuts to health care benefits and decreased pay for night shifts and weekend work, amounted to an unacceptable deal. The deal was made even harder to strike amid handsome executive pay and perks for Ryba and the incoming interim CEO.

The bitter dispute over compensation for the hospital's roughly 1,235 nurses from El Camino Hospital's Mountain View and Los Gatos campuses came to a head in September, when more than 100 nurses picketed along Grant Road demanding a better deal. Contract disputes between the El Camino and PRN occasionally boil over into public view, but rarely reach the point of picketing, according to the union leadership.

After seven months of offers, counter-offers, mediation and rejected contracts, the nurses finally voted in late October to ratify a new contract that appears to have largely been a compromise. Health care benefits for dependents and "differential" pay for evening and weekend nursing staff remained the same, but the pay increase — 10 percent over three years — fell short of the bargaining team's original asking amount. Some nurses argued that the 2015-16 salary range of $56.75 to $95.41 per hour was hardly enough to keep up with the cost of living in the Bay Area.

The start of the year also marked the end of the Mountain View RotaCare Clinic, which operated out of a basement on the hospital's campus and shut its doors for good in May. In its final years of operation, the free clinic saw fewer and fewer low-income and uninsured patients and dwindling demand for its services. Not only were more patients now covered through the expansion of the Affordable Care Act and Medi-Cal, but the high cost of living has pushed many of the patients seeking free services from RotaCare out of the area.

Hospital staff claimed that money and staffing were never a core issue facing a clinic, but nevertheless said that the reduced patient numbers means they had two options: reduce the open hours of RotaCare or shut it down and transfer patients to the MayView Community Health Center. The El Camino Healthcare District's board of directors voted for the latter, and committed $2.4 million to MayView to help pay for the influx of new patients.

Since then, MayView has served close to 1,400 patients who transferred from RotaCare, and now sees more than double the number of uninsured patients.

Email Kevin Forestieri at kforestieri@mv-voice.com

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