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Saint John’s Health Center (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

MID-CITY — A multi-billionaire with strong ties to Saint John’s Health Center has offered to buy the hospital for an undisclosed sum, a move that is supported by the hospital’s donors and doctors who see it as the best option to ensure the quality of care is not diminished.

The Saint John’s Health Center Foundation, in close partnership with physicians at the hospital and the nearby John Wayne Cancer Institute, announced Wednesday that they have endorsed Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong’s offer to purchase Saint John’s from the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, which has operated the hospital since its inception 70 years ago.

The bid is sponsored by the nonprofit Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Advanced Health with support from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which would ensure that the hospital continues following ethical and religious tenets according to Catholic teaching.

“We believe that a weaker partner who has inadequate financial resources as well as limited experience and clout in the local community would severely restrict the ability of Saint John’s to retain its healthcare leadership in the Santa Monica and West Los Angeles communities,” read a statement from the foundation and physicians. “We feel that this community bid for the hospital and related assets will best serve the needs of our patients and healthcare providers now and for the foreseeable future.”

Soon-Shiong, who amassed a $7 billion fortune as a biotechnology entrepreneur creating drugs to fight diabetes and breast cancer, in 2007 donated $35 million to the hospital to help fund the completion of an inpatient facility that now bears his name. He most recently pledged $135 million to Saint John’s to build a biotech research center and sports medicine clinic.

Soon-Shiong could not be reached for comment.

He is competing against two other bids, one that is backed by UCLA Health System and two large Catholic hospital chains and another backed by Providence Health & Services, another Catholic hospital company, according to the L.A. Times.

UCLA, which operates the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center located just a few blocks west of Saint John’s, would not confirm or deny it is interested in purchasing the property.

“We highly respect our colleagues at Saint John’s Health Center, and it would be inappropriate for us to comment on or speculate about any proposed sale of the hospital or its future,” said UCLA spokesperson Roxanne Yamaguchi Moster. “UCLA has a long-standing, active affiliation with Saint John’s; we have UCLA physicians and surgeons who care for patients there. If a new owner were to emerge, we would look forward to the opportunity to sustain this relationship.”

A representative with Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System said they are not considering a sale “necessarily,” but rather a “ministry re-alignment” to strengthen the hospital at a time when competition is fierce and new mandates are coming into play because of the federal Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

“We aren’t disclosing more at the moment because there is nothing definitive to disclose,” said Cheston Turbyfill, director of public affairs at the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System.

Roman Catholic nuns founded Saint John’s in 1942 and oversaw the rebuilding of the hospital after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That would not have been possible without the commitment of community donors and a federal grant, said Donna Tuttle, chairwoman of the hospital’s foundation who gave birth to her two daughters at Saint John’s.

“The hospital wouldn’t be here if not for the donors, the trustees and the doctors,” Tuttle told the Daily Press. “The sisters didn’t want to rebuild the hospital [following the Northridge quake.]”

Tuttle said trustees have raised more than $580 million to ensure the hospital remained in Santa Monica and to fund new healthcare initiatives.

With Soon-Shiong’s vast financial resources and connections in the healthcare industry, plus his investment in the latest technology to help doctors share data more easily, he is uniquely positioned to lead Saint John’s at a time of consolidation where bigger institutions are gaining clout, Tuttle said.

Saint John’s has a rich history in Santa Monica and has treated some of the area’s most famous residents, including Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and President Ronald Reagan.

If UCLA were to take over Saint John’s, there is concern that services at the hospital could be reduced and the health center’s role diminished, said Dr. Paul Natterson, president of Saint John’s medical staff.

“Any time you have a lack of competition, there can be problems,” Natterson said. “It’s the elimination of choice for patients.”

Not only does UCLA run a hospital in Santa Monica, it also has the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood.

Late last year, officials at Sisters of Charity abruptly removed Saint John’s leadership and the majority of its board of directors in what was said to be a reorganization to improve the hospital’s “financial viability” and “long-term sustainability.” The L.A. Times reported then that the hospital lost money, posting a $21.9 million loss in 2010 and $12.8 million in 2011.

Tuttle disputes claims that the hospital is not profitable, telling the Daily Press that it generates upwards of $40 million before taxes and other debts.

 

kevinh@smdp.com

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