.Usual Suspects

Sutter Medical Center spurns quake retrofits, seeks new location

By Janet Wells

WHEN SUTTER Medical Center of Santa Rosa made the surprise admission last week that hospital officials are looking for a new site to replace the seismically substandard building on Chanate Road, perhaps they were hoping it would curtail a pesky lawsuit looming on the horizon. The hospital’s board of trustees apparently approved the recommendation of chief executive officer Cliff Coates to build a new facility rather than spend a minimum of $11 million to bring the current building into compliance with strict statewide seismic standards by 2008.

Hospital watchdog Dorothy Hansen is well versed in Sutter’s earthquake preparedness issues. Last June she filed a lawsuit charging that Sutter failed to fulfill its promise to use millions of dollars for seismic safety upgrades, using the money instead to purchase furniture, automobiles, computers, and cafe air conditioning. The county, which leases the building to Sutter, declined to be a co-plaintiff in the suit, but Hansen is pursuing her charges that the hospital made false claims by trying to pass off $4 million in capital improvements as seismic safety changes.

According to published reports, the Sacramento-based nonprofit health-care corporation–which sits directly on the Rogers Creek fault–is searching for an appropriate Santa Rosa location, and apparently plans on moving into a new facility in 2006. It is unclear what will happen to the county-owned building if the move goes through.

“[Sutter] contracted with the county to make millions in retrofits and they simply didn’t do it,” says Hansen’s attorney Daniel Robert Bartley. “The county should be fairly compensated. . . . They will have a building that’s worth $4 million less than it should be. Sutter should pay the county in cash if not in seismic improvements.”

Deputy County Counsel Sally McGough said earlier that the county decided not to join the lawsuit because Hansen “misread the lease,” and that the required capital improvements can be in the form of movable equipment. “It seems really clear on its face that money was to go for seismic capital improvements, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out,” Bartley counters. “The county needs to give the public an answer for not taking a stronger stand against Sutter.”

Diocese Debt

HIGH-ROLLER investment schemes may have pushed the Diocese of Santa Rosa’s financial losses to $30 million–more than twice the original estimates, according to recently published reports.

Monsignor John Brenkle, the diocese’s acting financial officer, amended a December report that former diocese leaders ignored auditors’ warnings and exhausted $16 million in parish funds through fraudulent investments, reparations for sexual abuse misconduct, and overspending during the tenure of fallen Bishop Patrick Ziemann and former financial officer Thomas Keys.

This week Brenkle addressed a somber crowd at St. Bernard Church during the first of a weeklong series of meetings about the diocese’s deepening financial crisis, and described the recent discovery of a European-based foundation that apparently was using the diocese’s non-profit status as a cover for a high-yield investment scheme that was akin to a pyramid scheme.

“It could take $30 million by the time we eliminate all of our debt and cover the losses,” Brenkle noted.

On Tuesday, an angry crowd of parishioners at St. Mary’s of the Angels Church in Ukiah called for Ziemann and his former chief financial aide to be jailed. “It’s very inappropriate to call for the bishop to go to jail,” San Francisco Archbishop William Levada told the crowd. “I don’t applaud that.”

Levada further chastised parishioners for equating mismanagement and malfeasance with theft. “You should not make rash judgments.” he said.

But the nearly capacity crowd of 550 faithful, led by the dissident nun, Sister Jane Kelley, who first exposed the bishop’s behavior, walked out of the meeting after accusing Levada of failing to address the church’s moral crisis.

Ziemann resigned in July after admitting to a two-year sexual relationship with the Rev. Jorge Hume Salas, a former Ukiah priest who confessed to stealing money from St. Mary of the Angels Church.

Greg Cahill contributed to this article.

From the February 3-9, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.


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