Lodi Memorial Hospital’s CEO is among 11 people entrusted with trying to rescue the financially strapped San Joaquin General Hospital.
Joseph Harrington, a hospital CEO for 35 years, 17 of them at Lodi Memorial Hospital, will join two other hospital CEOs and several others on the interim county hospital board based in French Camp.
The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, which decided earlier this year to establish an interim board of trustees to review hospital operations and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, made the appointments at Tuesday’s board meeting.
The interim board includes county Supervisors Carlos Villapudua and Steve Bestolarides, San Joaquin General Chief Medical Officer Jerry Royer, county Health Care Services Director Ken Cohen, three private hospital CEOs, someone with hospital finance expertise, a local health care professional and two community representatives.
Eight people applied for one seat in the local health care professional category, and 17 applied for two community representative seats.
The new structure is an attempt to bring the county-owned hospital closer to being a self-supporting operation. The board has subsidized the hospital for several years, including an $11.9 million infusion in the 2009-10 fiscal year budget. However, it wasn’t enough, and the board had to add about $8 million to keep the hospital afloat.
“They’re not going to have an easy job of turning this hospital around,” Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller, of Stockton, said.
Supervisors voted in June to make the county-owned hospital a stand-alone operation, and removed it from the county Health Care Services Department. The county also hired an executive search firm to recruit a hospital CEO in June.
The county had relied for several years on a series of medical consulting firms, most recently The Camden Group, to run the hospital and make fiscal recommendations.
In addition to Harrington, who lives in Lodi, two other north San Joaquin County residents were appointed — Nicholas Arismendi, chief operating officer of Stockton’s Dameron Hospital, who lives in Clements, and Edward Schroeder, of Morada, president of the Hospice of San Joaquin board, a member of St. Andrews’s Mission and Ministry Council and retired health care executive.
While he voted with his colleagues on the appointees to San Joaquin General’s interim board, Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, of Tracy, objected to having CEOs of three private hospitals overseeing the county hospital. Ornellas said it’s a possible conflict of interest to have CEOs of hospitals competing with San Joaquin General on the board.
“It’s in the CEOs’ best interested in our (county-owned) hospital surviving, but it’s not in their best interest to see our hospital prosper,” Ornellas said.
Bestolarides replied, “I don’t consider it a conflict of interest. These people have a vested interest because of the dire consequences on their hospitals if (San Joaquin General) closes.”
“We want these people at the table helping us make sure we don’t fail this time,” Ruhstaller added.
Harrington had no comment Tuesday because he was not at the Board of Supervisors meeting and didn’t hear Ornellas’ comments, Lodi Memorial spokeswoman Carol Farron said.
Ornellas also said that one of the recommended appointees, Donald Wiley, of Catholic Healthcare West, has actively lobbied against the county locating a new veterans outpatient clinic and nursing home in French Camp. Ornellas said that Wiley has actively supported a San Joaquin County location other than French Camp adjacent to San Joaquin General.
Later Tuesday, Wiley said he has never spoken to a Veterans Administration representative and hasn’t been politicking about the veterans’ clinic site, according to Natalie Pettis, a Catholic Healthcare West spokeswoman.
Harrington has a bachelor’s degree in education from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in health from Gannon University in Erie, Pa. His goals as an interim board member are to maintain access to health services for county residents, maintain San Joaquin General’s physician residency program and attract physicians to practices at the French Camp hospital.
“The physician-residency program at County General is an activity that will likely help the hospital maintain financial viability and contribute to the greater health of county residents,” Farron said in an e-mail. “It will help keep physicians in a region where it is very difficult to recruit and retain physicians.
“Financial viability is critical to the success of every hospital in this nation,” she said. “LMH has been financially viable throughout its 58-year history, and some of what Mr. Harrington has learned and practiced in his efforts here may be helpful and applicable to the financial viability of County General.
“As for specifics, it’s too soon to address them since they haven’t had the benefit of review and deliberation,” Farron said.
Margo Praus, of Stockton, a nurse in San Joaquin General’s neo-natal unit, said she was disappointed that only one woman was appointed to the interim hospital board.
San Joaquin General’s board meetings will be open to the public and are subject to the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law, Bestolarides said.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.