Alameda Hospital System in Peril

Alameda Hospital System in Peril

Alameda Health System (AHS) C.E.O. Delvecchio Finley announced his resignation at the AHS Board of Trustees meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Finley’s resignation was the culmination of a five-year tenure that included prolong financial challenges and labor strife between AHS officials and union nurses, physicians and representatives. The labor strife includes accusations of unfair labor negotiating practices and a lack of support from management to workers during the pandemic. The perceived lack of support to workers was a key factor in Finley stepping away from his position.

The conflict between AHS officials and union workers heightened during the coronavirus pandemic. Nurses and physicians at AHS facilities voiced their concern with the lack of adequate personal protective equipment and weakened patient care standards for healthcare workers and patients. This led to AHS nurses staging small strikes at Alameda and Highland hospitals earlier this year (“Alameda Health System Nurses Stage ‘Lightning’ Rally” April 9).

Their dissatisfaction continued, which led to a massive five-day strike by more than 3,000 union workers from Oct. 7 to 12 at AHS medical facilities.

“The system is in crisis,” said Highland Hospital emergency room nurse John Pearson in a Service Employees international Union (SEIU) press release. “And it has been in crisis since long before the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been coming to AHS management for years, telling them about what our patients need, and they’ve been failing to provide it. I’m afraid of what will happen to our patients if we don’t strike.” SEIU Local 1021 is a union that represents many AHS nurses and physicians.

The strike cost AHS $10 million in unbudgeted expenses, according to Alameda County Board of Supervisors (BOS) President Richard Valle. The BOS felt the strike was unnecessary and a result of AHS Administration eroding the trust of its employees and partners.”

As a result, the BOS decided to restructure the governance model of AHS — the BOS has jurisdiction over AHS. At its Oct. 20 meeting, Supervisor Wilma Chan expressed measures the new governance structure should incorporate.

“Improving the direct accountability of the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Leadership Team to the Board of Trustees for operational and financial progress; implementing a collaborative approach to working with employees and key partners, including labor organizations and the Health Care Services Agency; and full transparency by the AHS administration about problems facing the system,” wrote Chan in the meeting agenda.

Valle wrote a letter to the nine-member AHS Board of Trustees (BOT) asking for their resignation.

“The Board of Trustees has repeatedly heard from AHS employees and partners that the system’s leadership has not made a real effort to listen, collaborate, or to engage in meaningful dialogue about how to address the multi-faceted challenges it faces,” the letter stated. “It should, therefore, be no surprise that relationships have deteriorated, communication has broken down, and that there is a lack of trust or respect between the System and its partners.”

After the trustees resigned, Finley followed suit.

“I believe the fact that the Board of Supervisors asked for the resignation of the Board of Trustees led to Finley’s resignation,” said Trustee Tracy Jensen. Jensen has been on the BOT since AHS incorporated Alameda Hospital into its system in 2013. She was appointed to the Alameda Health Care District (AHCD) Board the earlier in the year and when Alameda Hospital joined AHS, one BOT seat was designated for an ACHD member.

Jensen said she had a great working relationship with Finley.

“Finley did quite a bit of good,” said Jensen who mentioned Finley’s help in securing the $25 million seismic upgrades for Alameda Hospital.

After the trustees resigned, they were given the chance to reapply or their positions. Jensen, along with Dr. Taft Bhuket, Kinki Banjeree and Luisa Blue were all reappointed to the Board of Trustees, which is a volunteer position. New members include Jeanette Dong, Jennifer Esteen, Sblend Sblendorio and Alan Fox. Those not retained include Joe Devries, Louis Chicoine, Maria Hernandez, Ross Peterson and Noha Aboelata M.D.

Currently, the BOT is tasked with hiring the C.E.O., but Jensen is unsure if that will change under the BOS’ restructuring.

“I would like the new CEO to be more transparent,” said Jensen. “Also, someone who will use all of the AHS’ resources and shares information.

Finley was hired as AHS C.E.O. in August 2015. He succeeded Wright Lassiter after he left the organization. When Finley took on the role AHS was already facing dire finances. Under Lassiter, AHS claimed severe cash-flow problems and asked Alameda County officials to restructure nearly $200 million in debt it owed the county, according to reports. AHS officials blamed the problem on accounting and IT issues.

AHS’ troubling financial outlook continue today. Earlier this year AHS was one of the subjects in the 2020 Civil Grand Jury report (“AHS Facing Dire Finances,” July 9). In the report, the Civil Grand Jury concluded AHS having a negative net worth of $300.6 million and a cash deficit of approximately $144 million in fiscal year 2020. The Civil Grand Jury report said AHS still labels its budget as “balanced” because it only factors in “the revenue and expenses needed to operate AHS day to day” and not any liabilities.

Alameda Hospital is one of 12 hospitals or wellness facilities in the AHS including Highland Hospital in Oakland and San Leandro Hospital.