Seton Medical Center in Daly City is part of the Daughters of Charity hospitals, where doctors and nurses have recently left to find better job stability. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Good tidings for Peninsula health care workers

BlueMountain Capital Management’s recently finalized deal with the Daughters of Charity Health System might cause affected health care workers to feel Santa came early this year, delivering some sorely needed job security.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris placed numerous terms on BlueMountain’s bid to acquire the family of six Bay Area and Southern California medical facilities, which includes keeping all but one of the hospitals open for a minimum of 10 years. The terms honor existing labor contracts and maintain the nonprofit health system’s current level of service to indigent and low-income patients.

Prime Healthcare deemed similar requirements too onerous when it surprised the Daughters of Charity community by backing out of its Attorney General-approved deal to purchase the health system in March. Because the Catholic organization was on the brink of bankruptcy when Prime walked away from its deal, the possibility of hospital closures loomed in the minds of patients and providers.

BlueMountain has created a new organization, the Verity Health System, to operate the hospitals. And Verity CEO Mitch Creem’s prescription for restoring the hospitals to solvency is anything but Scrooge-like.

BlueMountain will provide $260 million for capital improvements and operational expenses, and Creem said using those funds to upgrade hospital equipment and attract and retain the best doctors and nurses will be crucial to the organization’s financial health.

Employees of Daughters of Charity hospitals — including Seton Medical Center in Daly City — have noted a slow exodus of doctors and nurses who have left in search of greater stability.

Creem, whose troubleshooting career has included turning around several financially troubled health care organizations, explained Medicaid gives patients the ability to switch hospitals when their favorite doctors move. The loss of those doctors has affected the hospitals’ revenues.

Seton ICU Nurse Debra Amour predicted the new health system would be successful in wooing former employees. She noted several of her co-workers, who had left due to concerns about Seton’s future, wound up returning prior to the announcement of the BlueMountain transaction because they missed their colleagues and patients.

Amour said some at the hospital feel cautious about the acquisition because they don’t know much about BlueMountain, and she promised the San Francisco Examiner would be the first to know if patient care is impacted by the management change.

“I’ve got you on speed-dial,” Amour noted.

Some employees welcome renewed certainty about Seton’s future, but say aspects of the transition will take some adjustment. While Seton and its sister facilities retain their nonprofit status, they have ceased to be Catholic hospitals. As such, religious artifacts, including crucifixes and statues, have been removed from Seton’s halls and will find new homes at other Daughters of Charity missions.

“We’ll miss the nuns more than the statues,” Amour said, noting that Seton would still have a chapel and chaplain to address patients’ spiritual needs.

Another big change on the horizon will be the eventual demolition of the eight-story tower that is currently Seton’s most visible feature.

Daly City Vice Mayor David Canepa said the city council earlier this week approved a conceptual plan for the hospital’s long-needed seismic upgrades. The services currently housed in the existing tower will be relocated to a six-story acute care building.

New skilled nursing and psychiatric facilities will also be built, and the hospital’s total number of beds will go from 357 to 464, Canepa said.

Canepa, who has been involved in activist efforts to keep Seton open, cheered the BlueMountain deal.

“We went from a hospital on the verge of closure to having a hospital with a future,” the vice mayor said, “A future we as policy makers need to protect.”

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