BERKELEY -- Questions raised about the value the community is receiving from the nonprofit and tax exempt status of Alta Bates/Summit Hospital will be investigated at a local level, a City Council majority decided Tuesday night.
The issue was initially raised in a resolution backed by Councilmen Jesse Arreguin, Max Anderson and Darryl Moore that would have asked the state tax board and the Alameda County tax assessor to investigate the hospital's nonprofit status.
Arreguin suggested the hospital may not be giving the community as much as it gets from its nonprofit status, saying "The goal is to get more information. What is the value of the exemption?"
Arguing, however, that the city's Health Commission and not the council itself should look into the question, the council majority overrode supporters of the resolution and voted 7-4 on an alternative resolution, with Councilman Kriss Worthington joining the minority.
The substitute resolution by Councilman Gordon Wozniak asks the commission to gather the information and report back to the council, and included an opportunity for Alta Bates to make a presentation at a council workshop.
"I don't feel comfortable sending (the questions) to the state or the county; I think we should do it internally," Wozniak said. "I don't think the proponents of this resolution have established that there's a likelihood that (the hospital is) not making their required contributions."
Alta Bates/Summit spokeswoman Deborah Pitts addressed the council, arguing that Arreguin's resolution had been presented without hospital input.
"Over the past three years, we have provided more than $250 million in community benefits in the Oakland and Berkeley community," she said, pointing to monetary contributions to the city's Primary Care Access Clinic and to the hospital's asthma, diabetes and HIV centers that reduce patient hospitalizations.
Pitts further noted that the State Board of Equalization and the state auditor have both issued recent reports on the hospital's charity care.
But Arreguin said he wanted more specifics than these reports provided, including details on hospital care provided to low income and indigent members of the community, which he said is different from the hospital's contributions to other nonprofit health care providers and access to clinics.
"Who is (charity care) being provided to? How many people have received it? How many have been turned away?" Arreguin asked. "I've heard of instances where people have been shipped off to Highland (the Alameda County Medical Center in Oakland) because Alta Bates isn't providing care to indigent people."
Moore said he doesn't think people in his West Berkeley district are aware that there is charity care at Alta Bates. "How does that information get out to the community?" he asked, questioning why Alta Bates wouldn't want the city to have the detailed information.
"What do they have to hide from?" he asked.