Wednesday, Oct 24, 2018
  • Whether you are an orphan, a prisoner, sick, a refugee, homeless or mentally ill, the Daughters of Charity for nearly 400 years provided charitable health care for the most vulnerable among us. They’ve been the heroes of the poor for centuries all around the world.

    Locally, the Daughters of Charity established Mary’s Help Hospital in 1893 which ultimately transformed in 1965 into what is now called Seton Medical Center in Daly City. Today, Seton’s emergency department serves about 28,000 patients annually, with the overwhelming number of them, 84 percent, having Medicaid or Medi-Cal as their insurance.

    For 50 years, the Daughters of Charity served poor patients in north San Mateo County with compassionate, high-quality, affordable and often free health care services. But they were losing too much money doing it, which prompted the Catholic nuns in 2015 to sell Seton and its five other hospitals, which is now known as Verity Health and operated by a group called Integrity Healthcare.

    The buyers agreed to provide the same levels of charitable care under an agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office. The deal was a godsend for the area as it meant Seton would continue to provide care for the needy in north San Mateo County and remain Daly City’s top employer.

    The conditions of approval negotiated with the Attorney General’s Office mandated that Seton must operate as an acute care hospital and offer emergency services for a minimum of 10 years.

    On the surface, the deal seemed to be an initial success.

    Verity reported in July 2017 that net patient revenue increased 7 percent, patient admissions were up 1.3 percent and that there was a 6.9 percent increase in inpatient services in the first year under new management.

    And then there was even bigger news, Verity announced a billionaire philanthropist was investing in the health system with a pledge to continue its revitalization.

    Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns part of the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Lakers and is married to former MacGyver actress and philanthropist Michele Chan, has an estimated worth of about $7.8 billion, according to Fortune. Soon-Shiong also famously provided a $100 million guarantee to help underwrite the reopening of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in south Los Angeles to meet the health care needs of that underserved community.

    Here in San Mateo County, many including myself were given a new hope that Soon-Shiong’s investment in these hospitals would mean that they would not only continue to provide health care to our neediest residents but actually grow, thrive and become a leader in innovative health care delivery.

    Verity announced Soon-Shiong was inspired by the 200-year history of service to the poor in California by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. He previously practiced at the Daughters’ St. Vincent Hospital in Los Angeles “and it is a privilege to be reconnected with this institution and healthcare system again,” he said in the release.

    Soon-Shiong said 13 months ago that he wanted to transform the former Catholic hospitals into a more efficient, more effective health system. Soon-Shiong and Chan’s history and holdings are stellar, considering they both grew up in apartheid South Africa, where they were the underdogs. They are a family of firsts in so many ways. It was Chan’s brother who became the first Chinese student in South Africa to receive a Catholic education after a hard-fought battle. Chan said “it’s given us an appreciation for how hard you have to fight for what you want and it has made us a family of risk-takers.”

    The couple has gone from immigrant underdogs to billionaire philanthropists.

    I am inspired by them both.

    However, Verity made another announcement last month that it was exploring “strategic options.” The announcement stated Verity needed to alleviate financial and operational pressures and that the “potential sale of some or all of its locations” was being considered.

    It was a chilling announcement to read considering a year earlier the tune was much more optimistic.

    Seton’s motto is “Compassion: Care that makes you feel cared-for.”

    Northern San Mateo County residents need Seton Medical Center. It is beacon of light for healthy outcomes for thousands and thousands of patients who have no other nearby options.

    This is a direct appeal to Soon-Shiong and Chan’s charitable sides. They were once the underdogs. I am now asking them to stand up for the underdogs in our community and stick to the conditions of approval set forth by the Attorney General’s Office.

    Soon-Shiong is a risk taker who knew the risks when he invested in Integrity. Now, let’s hope the doctor sticks to his word.

    Seton and its vulnerable patients need new heroes to take the place of the Daughters of Charity and hopefully Soon-Shiong and Chan have the compassion to accept this incredible challenge.