East Bay Express
by Sam Levin

Last week, advocates urged Sutter Health not to close its Oakland-based residential drug and alcohol treatment center for adolescents, a vital program for low-income youth in the East Bay. Supporters of the Thunder Road Adolescent Treatment Center argued that Sutter Health — one of the largest nonprofit hospital systems in California, with a total income of $419 million last year — has an ethical obligation to provide this kind of community benefit and has the finances available to keep the doors open.

This week, critics are citing this potential closure as further reason that California needs to pass legislation aimed at encouraging nonprofit hospitals to do a better job at providing community benefits and care for low-income and uninsured people. On Wednesday, lawmakers will host the first hearing on Senate Bill 346, a proposal from state Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) to establish stricter standards for the community benefit obligations of nonprofit hospitals.

Supporters of the legislation — which is co-sponsored by the California Nurses Association, the Greenlining Institute, and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation — have long argued that private nonprofit hospitals, which benefit from massive tax breaks each year, have failed to provide meaningful community benefits and operate more like profit-driven corporations. As outlined in our recent cover story, “Fatal System Error,” nonprofit hospitals in the East Bay provide relatively low rates of care to poor and uninsured people (compared to struggling public hospitals) and by some measures are no different than for-profit hospital corporations in terms of the community benefits they provide to the sickest and most disadvantaged people.

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