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CA Attorney General weighs in on controversial hospital sale

Patients, community members and workers will attend a slate of public hearings this week across the state to protest the sale of six Daughters of Charity Hospitals to Ontario-based Prime Healthcare.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office is hosting the meetings. The first hearing is set for today at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at St. Vincent in Los Angeles.

Harris must approve the sale for it to become final. She is expected to make a decision next month. The Attorney General is no stranger to Prime Healthcare, she has reviewed four other acquisitions, and rejected two of them. In 2011 she rejected the sale of Victor Valley Community Hospital to Prime because it was "not in the public interest."

Criticism of the pending sale has been loud and aggressive from the health care workers union, Democratic members of Congress and community leaders. It has become one of the contentious hospital acquisitions in years, according to those involved in the fight.

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West is leading the charge against Prime. The union argues the sale will threaten healthcare access for tens of thousands of low-income residents and will jeopardize healthcare jobs and pensions.

Union members plan to rally at the Lynwood hospital before the public hearing Monday. St. Francis hospital reports that it admits about 19,000 annually and it’s emergency department sees more than 70,000 each year.

Prime's CEO Prem Reddy says the Union's criticisms are misleading and that the purchase will actually save the hospitals from closing. Reddy's agreed to keep the doors open for at least five years.

An outside review of the deal, commissioned by the Attorney General, recommended that Prime double that commitment to ten years. The report did not take a position on whether the deal should be approved.

Last month 18 members of the California Congressional delegation – including Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Xavier Becerra from Los Angeles and Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach - signed a letter asking Harris to reject the sale. In the letter, the group called Prime a "controversial for-profit system that has a history of unfair business practices" and said they believe "patient care and healthcare worker rights will suffer at these hospitals."

Prime and Daughters or Charity are pushing to complete the deal. In addition to promising to keep the hospitals operating, Prime Healthcare has also said it would keep most jobs, pay off bonds and assume pension liability.

Meetings are being held at the other hospital sites throughout the rest of the week.