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December 4, 2023

Becerra gambles with lives

It is now too late to try and convince California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to back off, and allow Saint Louise and O’Connor hospitals to be saved by Santa Clara County.

He has doubled down, and all of his cards are on the table. This was his last play.

Despite pleas from lawyers, county officials, county supervisors, mayors, city councils, health officers, doctors, editorial writers, lawyers, nurses, EMTs, labor unions and all variety of patients—some with tears in their eyes—in English and Spanish, he didn’t fold. He played his hand.

Becerra’s decision to take his request to block the proposed $235 million sale of the two hospitals to U.S. District Court—after twice being rejected in U.S. Bankruptcy Court—puts the fate of healthcare for county residents, especially those of us in South County communities, in the hands of a federal judge in Los Angeles.

The cards that this judge flips following a Feb. 22 hearing will make or break the sale, and seal the fate of our two hospitals.

Becerra, in court filings, doesn’t believe this assertion by the two parties in the deal—Santa Clara County and Verity Health System—and the judge overseeing Verity’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. He remains content to gamble, with people’s lives at stake.

If we are to believe what he has said in his most recent court papers, he asks us to believe that without the protection of his office, the county may close the two hospitals it has offered millions to buy, and that it may choose to deny health care services to the needy and elderly that it is legally obligated to provide. The attorney general asks us to believe him when he says the hospitals will somehow stay open awaiting a more desirable suitor, even though none has appeared. He also asks us, the people who elected him attorney general just three months ago, to ignore the harsh realities of bankruptcy proceedings seeking relief for creditors owed millions of dollars from a health system that is bleeding $10 million a month.

The reality is that no one believes what the attorney general is saying. It may be possible that even he doesn’t believe it. It may be he is simply engaged in a cynical power play to flex his muscles, in a display of arrogance that he knew all along would be futile. It is hard to figure out what political calculus the former six-term Congressman is using to determine that his actions make any sense.

Of course, we don’t know what he really is thinking, because the attorney general has declined all requests for interviews, and ignored emailed questions. He has refused to sit and down and meet with Santa Clara County officials, apparently preferring to hide behind the court documents and press releases of his deputies and media team.

Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith, in an interview with this newspaper last week, was unbelievably still willing the give Becerra the benefit of the doubt—perhaps hoping the attorney general might change his mind at the last minute. “We don’t have any animus towards the attorney general, it’s just that we’re befuddled by his stance,” he told us. “The staff of the attorney general is living in an alternate universe—he’s getting “a lot of bad advice—that’s the only way to make sense out of it.”

“We are not interested in being at odds with the attorney general. We just don’t think that he has the authority to impose conditions on us that we legally can’t agree to.”

“We’re on the same time team, with the same goals,” Smith said. “It’s as if someone on the same team is trying to shoot me in the back.”

Our attorney general has missed an opportunity to demonstrate wisdom and empathy. All we can do at this point is hope he loses this high-stakes matchup.

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