Seton Medical Center breaks ground on $60 million seismic retrofit, but workers want more

Three years Seton Medical Center nearly closed when its previous owner went bankrupt, the hospital system is getting a $60 million injection from AHMC Healthcare as part of a bid to modernize aging facilities.

On Friday, Southern-California based AHMC Healthcare officials broke ground on a new project to seismically retrofit the Daly City hospital and perform overdue maintenance repairs as part of investments totaling $160 million for new medical equipment and facility upgrades in the future.

Dr. Kenneth Kim, chairman of AHMC Seton Medical Center, said the investment ensures Seton will continue to operate and serve the San Mateo County, San Francisco and coastline communities.

“This hospital is vital because without it is a healthcare desert, as there are few nearby alternatives for our community,” Kim said in a press release.

AHMC Healthcare — a for-profit company — bought Seton out of bankruptcy from nonprofit healthcare provider Verity Health in August 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to weigh in on whether the sale would benefit the community.

The state got involved because any time a nonprofit health care provider like Verity wants to sell to a for-profit company like AHMC, the attorney general is asked to intervene.

As part of the deal struck with the state, AHMC must keep the hospital open for at least five and a half years and completely cover the cost of care for people who are uninsured or who make 250 percent of the federal poverty level or less — about $31,900 for an individual —  and partially cover the cost of care for other low-income patients.

AHMC was also required to commit $1 million in charity care for community patients for six years.

“Seton stands as a beacon on the hill for so many of us who were born at Seton and raised in the community,” said Fred Naranjo, Vice Chairman at Seton Medical Center. “This project ensures that the hospital continues to provide patient care in the decades ahead.”

Seton is the largest employer in Daly City with 1,100 jobs including physicians, nurses and union members. The hospital serves about 27,000 patients annually, and it’s the closest emergency room for thousands of residents of northern San Mateo County and parts of San Francisco.

Despite enthusiasm around the improvements to the hospital, caregivers at Seton say AHMC’s focus also should be on stabilizing the medical facility’s business practices and making necessary repairs.

Matthew Artz, spokesman for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, said the hospital is putting patients in real danger by not paying bills or repairing critical medical equipment.

In 2020, workers at the hospital agreed to forgo raises for a third consecutive year to help place the hospital on firmer financial footing, but Artz said AHMC has not made consistent payments to its vendors to maintain supplies and repair equipment, and the company has severely cut staffing.

Since AHMC acquired Seton last year, healthcare workers say they’ve had to make desperate runs to Costco to buy food for patients amid a lack of food, deal with broken equipment that delay heart procedures and mammogram appointments, and even contend with only one working elevator out of six at the main hospital.

Christina Caridis, a radiological technologist at Seton, said it’s the worst she’s ever seen.

“The seismic work is needed, she said. “But our community is going to lose faith in our hospital if the owner can’t pay its bills, fix its equipment and give us the tools to safely care for our patients.”

Hospital officials did not return a request for comment on the caregivers’ complaints.

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