It's a very good deal, at least according to an editorial in U-T San Diego, the media operation owned by Republican stalwart and real estate mega-developer Douglas Manchester.
"East County voters have an easy decision June 3 on extending the lease of Grossmont Hospital with Sharp HealthCare," says the editorial, which urges East County voters to approve a new 30-year lease between the taxpayer-financed Grossmont Hospital District and Sharp.
"For another health care provider to take over would be a monumental and disruptive endeavor that is hardly worth even considering."
As in any political campaign, there is another side to the story, but it hasn't gotten much, if any, media exposure. A search of the U-T’s online database shows that there was a brief item on December 19 of last year about the lease-extension proposal, then being considered by the board of the healthcare district.
Critics assert that the Sharp deal, done without competitive bidding, is another one of San Diego's cozy, law-skirting power plays. Sharp has another view.
To ensure the measure passes, a political committee calling itself Citizens for Hospital Excellence, bankrolled by the Sharp-run Grossmont Hospital, has been out spreading its political wealth, including a tidy $2500 contribution on May 5 to the Republican Party of San Diego County. A disclosure document says the money is for "inclusion on Republican state advertising."
The hospital chain's cash to the GOP has been only the beginning. Campaign finance disclosure records posted online by the registrar of voters show that Grossmont Hospital has thus far kicked in at least $300,000 to sell the arrangement to voters.
The downtown San Diego business lobbying group that calls itself the San Diego County Taxpayers Association is also backing the measure. Sara Steinhoffer, Sharp's vice president for governmental relations, is on the association's board of directors. The group, famous for handing out its "golden fleece" bad government spending awards, gave one last year to a Poway bond issue it had helped to pass.
"The [Poway] bond also had considerable cachet, thanks to a coveted endorsement from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Indeed, association President Lani Lutar's name was first on a list of five local dignitaries named on the ballot supporting the bond."
The cast of characters in the Sharp deal has been well populated by city and county politicos.
The hospital district's executive director is Barry Jantz, a former La Mesa city councilman who served as district chief of staff to assemblyman Jay La Suer. In February 2011, according to a U-T San Diego report, his salary was raised to more than $206,000 a year from the current $183,150.
"The base pay does not include more than $65,000 a year that Jantz collects in deferred compensation and other benefits.
“'He’s had many many more duties to handle with the GO (general obligation) bond,' said Deborah McElravy, president of the Grossmont Healthcare board of directors. 'And we’re getting ready to issue our second set of bonds, so Barry has a lot on his plate.'"
Other political and PR operatives, who have carefully steered the debate away from taxpayer involvement in hospital financing, have also had a major role.
"Supporters of Prop. H, including officials with [Grossmont Hospital District] and Sharp HealthCare, are in favor of the measure because they say it demonstrates how a public-private partnership should work, where the public resources of a state-of-the-art community hospital join with an award-winning nonprofit healthcare system to benefit the public," says a recent statement from the Sharp campaign by Ryan Purdy, who has been a GOP political consultant, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Though the Prop H proponents aren’t saying, there is a dissenter on the hospital district board who says she and other critics have been virtually shut out of the debate and who suggests there has been less than an arm’s length relationship between the district and Sharp.
"The district does not have a hands-off relationship with Sharp," says Betty Stieringer, a registered nurse elected to the board in 2012. "I really don't understand it. I don't believe there ever has been a vote against Sharp."
Her husband Jim Stieringer, a former member of the hospital district board, penned the ballot argument against Proposition H.
"Our hospital is too valuable to bestow without competition. In 1996, the Healthcare Board rejected Columbia/Sharp's Partnership's offer of $53,000,000 in pre-paid rent for a 30-year lease.
"The real issue is a free gift of our publicly-owned $500,000,000 hospital. Under the current and proposed lease, Sharp collects all hospital revenues and profits…. What's the hurry? The current lease doesn't expire until 2021."
In rebutting Stieringer’s call for more money and accountability from Sharp, Prop H proponents say, "Grossmont Health District doesn't penalize Sharp HealthCare with a lease fee to operate the hospital. That money goes instead into patient care at Grossmont Hospital.”