BERKELEY -- Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, a nonprofit corporation, is exempt from millions of dollars in property, income and sales taxes.

In exchange, the hospital is obligated to provide benefits to the community.

But at its July 16 meeting, the City Council expressed frustration at not knowing precisely what those benefits are. How much of the community benefits reported by the hospital goes to charity care, and how much of that is targeted to low-income Berkeley residents, council members asked.

"Community benefits can be anything they decide," Dan Johnston, a researcher with the Institute for Health and Socio-Economic Policy, the research arm of the California Nurses Association, told to the council.

The council voted 7-1, with Mayor Tom Bates absent and Councilman Gordon Wozniak voting in opposition, to ask the hospital for an annual report detailing its delivery of charity care to Berkeley residents and to hold a workshop with Alta Bates and the city's Health Commission in September to get answers.

A dozen Alta Bates nurses sporting bright red CNA T-shirts, came to the meeting to urge adoption of the measure, which had been proposed by the Health Commission.

Paula Lyn, a registered nurse working at Alta Bates, maintained the hospital doesn't fulfill its obligation to low-income patients. She said she has seen low income people get heart surgery at the hospital, "then after surgery, as soon as they're stabilized, they're sent to Highland (the county hospital)," she said.


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CNA organizer Pilar Schiavo contended that some of Alta Bates' community benefits funds "are contributed to its own for-profit cancer center."

"We need to see the numbers," said Councilman Darryl Moore.

But Deborah Pitts, Alta Bates' regional community benefit manager, told the council she is proud of the benefits the hospital provides.

She contended that the resolution on the table wasn't really about community benefits. "It's clear what the agenda is this evening," she said, noting that the discussion was led by the nurses union.

In remarks emailed to this newspaper earlier in the day, Pitts elaborated, stating that "the nurse's union has been in a protracted labor dispute with our hospital for the past two years" and that much of the information the council and Health Commission had received was biased, coming from a report authored by CNA's research arm.

She further noted that among the community benefits provided, the hospital is working with Berkeley's Lifelong Medical Care to develop a respite care program for homeless patients. And she argued that it is difficult to pinpoint charity care given specifically to Berkeley residents, since Berkeley and Oakland residents use the hospital facilities in both cities.

Nonetheless, she said the hospital would submit an annual report and participate in the workshop. The council workshop on Alta Bates' charity care is slated for September.