According to John Avalos, National Union of Healthcare Workers representative for Seton Coastside Medical Center staff, there is panic in the air at the Moss Beach nursing home. When he walks down its halls, Avalos is bombarded with questions. Nurses ask him if they can rely on the next paycheck, if they should apply for unemployment or start looking for a new job.
“Things have gone from bad to worse,” Avalos said.
Seton Coastside is in turmoil after Verity Health, which owns the facility and others in California, filed for bankruptcy in 2018. Santa Clara County purchased two of the struggling facilities in 2018, and, last year, a potential buyer for the group’s remaining four hospitals emerged. But by December, the sale had fallen through and caused Verity to close St. Vincent Hospital in Los Angeles with just a few days’ notice.
That’s what prompted Daly City’s City Council to call a meeting to discuss the future of Seton Medical Center in January, and it’s creating anxiety among hospital staff at its sister facility and nearby residents on the Coastside. In response, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting Wednesday night assessing the potential health effects if Seton is to close.
Seton Coastside mainly functions as a nursing home, but it also offers the only 24-hour emergency room in the area. While some locals prefer bigger hospitals in the area, others say it has been lifesaving over the years. If it were to close, Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame would be the closest nearby emergency room for Coastsiders.
After Strategic Global Management Inc., which bid $610 billion on the four Verity hospitals including $60 million for Seton Coastside, backed out of the sale, another group is now in negotiations to purchase the hospitals, according to a January report by the San Francisco Chronicle. The group, Apollo Medical Holdings and AHMC Healthcare, currently runs hospitals in Southern California. The report also notes that SGM, which is in a lawsuit with its affiliate KPC Group over the failed sale, may still be interested in completing the purchase.
Avalos went to county supervisors last week to ask for the hearing and a report on the effect Seton Coastside’s closure could have on the surrounding area, which they agreed to hold Wednesday night. Avalos also said he wants the county to consider purchasing Seton Coastside.
“It’s really about political will,” Avalos said. “Financially, there are some challenges that are pretty major, but it doesn’t mean the option shouldn’t be explored.”
But County Supervisor Don Horsley said the county has no plans at this time to buy the facility.
“I am not supportive of buying the hospital,” Horsley said. “If two billionaires can’t make it work, and our health department is losing (money) this year ... we just don’t have the financial wherewithal to support that.”
Horsley said the county has a long history of pouring money into the facility, but that it has never been sustainable. He said he is closely monitoring the bankruptcy and will work alongside Verity Health with any potential buyer to help transition the facility as it changes hands. In the meantime, Horsley said he hopes for other, more financially feasible, options for Seton Coastside and that a buyer will emerge.
Representatives from Verity Health would only say they had no new information at this time. In early January, Verity Health put out a statement announcing the closure of St. Vincent and stating that none of its other locations will be affected.
“The closure of St. Vincent Medical Center does not
impact Verity’s other remaining facilities, including St. Francis Medical Center in Los Angeles County, and
Seton Medical Center and Seton Coastside in San Mateo County,” the statement reads. “Verity retains the support of stakeholders, including the consent of secured lenders for the use of more than $80 million to maintain operations at these hospitals, which remain open and will continue to provide high-quality care to patients in their communities as Verity pursues alternative paths.”
Avalos said the lack of communication from Verity coupled with uncertainty about the future has employees worried that every day could be their last at work.
“People are going through the most stressful period of their life,” Avalos said.
But it’s not just the future that’s at stake: Avalos said that as Verity struggles to remain solvent, Seton Coastside is struggling to retain and hire staff, which means current staff are being overworked and patient care is suffering. He said one nurse is currently juggling 12 patients instead of the normal eight.
“There is a lot of work that Coastside management is doing to keep things as good as they can be, but they are stretched very thin,” Avalos said. “It's with Band-Aids to keep things together; it's not a sound structure for sustainability.”