Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Sisters you don't want in your family - Worst Catholic ministry ever

Even though there are a lot of good people at Saint John's Health Center doing their best to provide outstanding care to patients, the decisions made by management and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System undermine that good work. As its sewage repeatedly pollutes our air, water, and beaches — and it remains indifferent to the traffic choking our streets — the hospital proves itself to be Santa Monica's worst neighbor. As they offend their own core values of respect and stewardship, Sister Sue Miller and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas, have proven themselves to be the worst Catholic ministry ever.

First of all, they lie. The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System entered into a development agreement with the city of Santa Monica laying out the exact terms and conditions of the reconstruction of Saint John's after the Northridge earthquake. Because of the pressure the estimated 29,000 daily new car trips to the hospital would put on the surrounding community, the Sisters agreed to build a 422-space underground parking garage. Construction of the new campus is just about finished, but there is no additional parking capacity. And the fact that they've applied for an amendment to their development agreement relieving them of their obligation to build the garage means there probably never will be any additional parking capacity.

Sister Sue and her enabling local land use attorneys/lobbyists will argue that steps are being taken through a Transportation Demand Management Plan to make up for the un-built garage. But the fact that there are no signs that the Sisters ever planned for or designed that garage, as required by the development agreement, means they haven't operated in good faith, as required by California law. You'd think good faith is something that would come naturally to an order of nuns.

They also cheat. In an effort to keep its registered nurses from exercising their right to form, join, or assist the California Nurses Association, Saint John's management committed six different violations of federal labor law. They illegally barred off-duty RN's from organizing in the hospital, illegally threatened off-duty employees with arrest, and illegally created the impression that employees were being followed and/or watched. Also, when RN's wore white ribbons as "an expression of union solidarity, as well as a concern about the hospital's non-compliance with a staffing law dealing with nurse-patient ratios," management illegally prohibited wearing the ribbons and illegally threatened discipline against RN's who didn't comply. That kind of behavior toward people who work tirelessly on behalf of Saint John's patients is hard to condone when your core values require you to "recognize the sacred worth and dignity of each person."

In addition to their established lying and cheating, we've just discovered that they steal. Last week, the Civil Fraud Section of the United States Attorney's Office and the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that they had reached a settlement with Saint John's over allegations that the hospital had overcharged for "outlier payments" designed to re-pay hospitals for ridiculously expensive care. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the hospital agreed to pay $5.25 million in fines for "turbocharging" or "jacking up already outrageous bills" for seven years between 1996 and 2003.

Who was the victim of this crime spree? Who were the Sisters robbing blind for almost a decade? It was the single payer for seniors' health care, the taxpayer-funded social safety net known as Medicare. They were violating the sacred trust between generations.

At this point, nothing shocks me when it comes to Saint John's, The SCLHS, or Sister Sue. I was a little surprised when spokeswoman Tish Starbuck said the development agreement didn't "require" the construction of the parking garage, rather "gave permission to build it" because she was inadvertently breaking news. But to me, the fact that Sister Sue and her giant hospital corporation masquerading as a Catholic ministry have been screwing over the U.S. Treasury seems par for the course. I like the fact that the Justice Department is making her cut a respectable seven-figure check, but that just makes our City Council look weak and ineffectual by comparison.

The Sisters were obligated to submit their (nonexistent to date) plans for both the building and the operations of the North Subterranean Parking Garage before they could start on the Chan Soon-Shiong Center, now fully constructed. Given that fact, I can't help but wonder what would have happened if the council had, as required by Santa Monica Municipal Code Sec. 9.48.190, reviewed the Saint John's development agreement "at least every 12 months from the date the development agreement is entered into." If the council had conducted the required annual review even once over the past decade (and counting), the Sisters wouldn't be able to get out of building that garage by saying, "Sorry, we put a hospital on top of it."


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