Anyone who does in-home sales work will tell you it’s a waste of time to make presentations to people who aren’t decision makers. Make all the small talk you have to, but wait until both husband and wife are sitting at the kitchen table before you start selling. The point is that only a decision maker can say yes when you ask for the sale, so anybody who doesn’t have the ability to cut a check becomes the dog by default — and you don’t pitch the dog.

The Mid-City community has been dealing with the problems associated with having an active construction site at Saint John’s Health Center for 15 years — including parking scarcity and rivers of sewage running through the streets, into our storm drains, and onto Will Rogers State Beach (which closed for a day-and-a-half because of a sewage spill on the same day the hospital’s sewage system had a “mechanical failure”).

The nurses who provide care at the hospital have also experienced health problems from sewage: like nausea, vomiting, and headaches caused by the perfume used to mask the smell. Recently, City Hall received an application to change the Development Agreement (DA) with Saint John’s so the hospital can “defer” constructing 422 underground parking spaces it committed to building when the DA was drafted. Unfortunately for the neighbors, the nurses, and city, none of them are negotiating with the decision maker because that person never comes to Santa Monica; though City Hall doesn’t seem to care and is ready to give up the parking spaces.

Saint John’s is only one of 15 hospitals (they bought two this year for $300 million) and clinics in four states that make up the much larger Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System — and I do mean much larger. According to their June 2009 Operating Information and Management Discussion, in the first six months of this year Gross Patient Service Revenue for SCLHS and Affiliates was over $2.5 billion. As the global economy was melting down, SCLHS earned almost $30 million in profits; yet in spite of the sound financial health of its parent corporation, Saint John’s claims they don’t have the money to fix their sewage problem or to construct the promised parking spaces.

The local hospital can cry poverty because none of the 15 facilities has the power to spend SCLHS money. Since it was re-organized in 1994, even the Board of Directors at the SCLHS doesn’t have much actual authority. In terms of the “acquisition, lease, sale, or mortgage of assets,” the board is only charged with “recommending” a course of action to SCLHS members; the members are the ones with the power to approve a significant expenditure, though the board may spend “up to an amount determined by the SCLHS members.” SCLHS spokesperson Christine Woolsey was unwilling to disclose that number.

These “Members” are the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas — as represented by the Community Director and the Community Council. They belong to an order of nuns with roots in 17th century France who came to Kansas from Nashville in the mid-1800’s to do typical nun stuff: educate children, care for the sick, and provide homes for orphans. Fast-forward about 150 years and the number of hospitals and clinics in their healthcare ministry grew as the number of sisters in the order shrank. The nuns needed help and re-organized so that the SCLHS president (William Murray) handles day-to-day operations, though the SCL Community Council “remains the Corporate Member with specific reserved powers.”

Those powers mainly reside in the person of Sister Joan Sue Miller, community director (known as Sister Sue). She sits on the SCLHS board and has been on the Community Council since 1986. I called her office and asked for her help with the sewage coming from her hospital. She was aware of the problem — she even stuck to the line that it comes from the construction of the new building — but directed me to call Bill Murray because she doesn’t handle “specifics.” She expected me to believe she doesn’t how much money Murray is allowed to spend without the council’s authorization. When I followed up by asking if she’d been on the council for 25 years she said, “Please don’t do this.”

Last week community members and RN’s got together with Gleam Davis and Kevin McKeown from our City Council and Jason Perry and Jim Ries from our Planning Commission to discuss sewage, parking, and abatement of hazardous materials (reps from Saint John’s were invited, but had more important things to do). Four things came out at that meeting: the DA is a city ordinance so not building those parking spaces could be a violation of the law; Planning Commission Director Eileen Fogarty is the person who would have to approve the hospital’s application to break that law; our City Council would then have to grant permission to break that law; and the council literally has no idea who it’s negotiating with at St. John’s Heath Center.

For future reference, it’s Sister Sue from the Sisters of Charity in Leavenworth, Kansas. She’s the decision maker and everyone else is the dog. But will our City Council roll over and play dead for her and her giant hospital corporation disguised as a Catholic ministry?

Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who thinks all Santa Monicans should call Sister Sue, Bill Murray, and Eileen Fogarty to express their concerns about St. John’s Health Center. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at kennymack@gmail.com.

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