DALY CITY, California – The big news last week on her social media elated longtime resident Evelyn Zamora: Seton Medical Center has officially changed ownership from Verity Health Systems to AHMC Healthcare.
After months of negotiations in the shadow of bankruptcy filings and community meetings, the $40-million sale went in effect midnight Aug. 15. Conditions set by the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra include provision of critical community care, complete cost of coverage for patients with income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level and partial cost of coverage for other low-income individuals.
“I was overjoyed to hear about the hospital that has impacted my life as well as many others through access to health care,” Zamora told INQUIRER.net. “I can’t imagine this city without a hospital. We are a diverse community with diverse needs.”
The new owners commit to keeping Seton in operation for 5 and a half years and provide $1 million in charity care for 6 years. The hospital will maintain cardiac, critical care services and women’s health services.
AHMC or Advanced Health Care Management Corporation identifies itself as a “for-profit privately held hospital corporation based in the greater San Gabriel Valley of California.” It boasts over 25 languages spoken by 5,000 staff and 2,500 physicians who attend to 200,000 patients a year.
“AHMC Healthcare, Inc. has had success in turning around hospitals along with a concerted effort to deliver quality care and maintain a safety net environment. Our goal is to achieve best quality and safety, ensuring best health outcome, best patient experience, best place to work and practice, and best use of resources,” AHMC President and CEO Anthony Armada said in a statement issued Aug. 17 to INQUIRER.net. Armada is a Filipino American.
The 55-year-old hospital has been on the brink of closure in the past five years but managed to find a buyer at the last minute with the help of county allies.
As the largest employer of the largest city in San Mateo County with the highest concentration of Filipinos on the United States mainland, Seton’s viability is a priority to elected officials of Daly City and the county at large.
District 5 Supervisor David Canepa, however, also has a more personal stake in the life of the facility on 1900 Sullivan Avenue: He was born there.
The former Daly City Council member convened in March an 11th hour meeting of the County Board of Supervisors to halt closure with a $20 million pledge. The 4-1 vote gives $5 million a year to the new owner. Supervisors Carole Groom, Warren Slocum and Don Horsley joined Canepa in voting for the proposal; Dave Pine voted against.
“It’s quality health care for not only the people from this area but also people from San Francisco that you heard today talking about coming down to Seton,” Board President Slocum explained his position.
“I would provide money in exchange for some property, but what’s difficult is to allocate the money when I just don’t believe it’s going to achieve the objective of saving Seton,” said Pine, who reportedly favored a plan that would have Seton give the county a parking lot for affordable housing.
“Many in the community thought Seton wasn’t worth saving, but they were clearly wrong,” said Canepa, who has been championing the hospital through past and this most recent financial dilemma.
“I applaud AHMC for seeing the value of providing quality health care to the county’s most vulnerable residents. This has been a long journey and I’m so grateful to the staff at Seton who have put their own lives on the line during the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months. This deal ensures the health and safety of thousands of patients who rely on Seton for years to come,” Canepa added.
Accessibility plus quality
Zamora has the same thoughts. She was rushed to the hospital’s emergency department twice this year, giving her first-hand experience with the quality of attention from medical staff.
“They were professional and caring. Without Seton I would have traveled miles (for treatment) for my situation that required immediate care,” said the Westmoor High School alumna. She is among many Filipino Americans in North San Mateo County applauding the deal and acknowledging Canepa “for standing with us.”
South San Francisco resident Rev. Leonard Oakes, pastor of Holy Child & St. Martin Episcopal Church in Daly City, has represented the interfaith sector on the Seton Community Advisory Board since 2010.
“With the renewed commitment set for Seton by the Attorney General and execution of the sale, I will participate in helping make sure of delivery as promised, particularly AHMC’s $1 million commitment in charity care for community patients for six years,” the licensed vocational nurse told Inquirer.net.
Westlake District resident and community advocate Rebecca Ayson called the contract “heaven-sent especially to the elderly, less fortunate and marginalized people.”
Seton “is the only hospital on this side of the County before San Francisco,” she emphasized a fact also stressed by Dr. Alice Yan, a popular doctor who sees patients at the 1800 Medical Offices Building behind the hospital.
“I was concerned about my patients having to go all the way to the Peninsula or San Francisco for regular exams and care,” said the 37-year practitioner of internal medicine who graduated from Manila Central University with residence in University of Southern California. “I’m happy and relieved for them.”
Daly City Vice Mayor Juslyn Manalo worked closely with Canepa during last-ditch efforts to prevent a shutdown.
“Together we pushed to save the community hospital to remain. Seton has always been a safeguard for our community and we have also seen how integral the hospital is during Covid-19 crisis,” she told Inquirer.net as soon as the final purchase was announced. “It has been a long haul but today is a day of hope for our community. This will save lives.”
“As the Covid-19 public health crisis continues to mount, it’s crucial that California communities have access to lifesaving hospital care,” Becerra said last month as AHMC and Verity came closer to a deal. “That’s why the conditions we have attached to the proposed sale of Seton focus on improving care and services at the facilities – increasing the amount of charity care, the benefits to the community, and investment in improvements for the facilities.”
The 357-bed facility has been designated as a Covid-19 hospital. Lately it has been receiving patients with the illness from San Quentin State Prison.
“Knowing we’re in a pandemic, why would we close a hospital when we have all these rooms,” an impassioned Canepa had asked. “It seems shortsighted to close a hospital that has a lot of capacity to help people.”
Seton and Seton Coastside, a skilled nursing facility and 24-hour emergency department in Moss Beach, complete AHMC Healthcare’s network of now 10 hospitals including 8 in Southern California.
Founded in the late 1900s in San Francisco as St. Mary’s Help specializing in care for women and children, the hospital moved to Daly City in 1965, when medical center and emergency services beds were in short supply north of San Mateo County. It was renamed Seton Medical Center in honor of St. Elizabeth Seton, founder of the Daughters of Charity, hospital administrators until 2016.
“Please continue to pray for Seton and the smooth transition of the sale as we join everyone on the table, especially those who fought for the revival and sale of Seton in favor of the wider community of north county and beyond, ” urged Oakes, whose parish comprises many older adults who count Seton Hospital as a major lifeline.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.