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Community hears arguments for, against Dignity Health merger

A public meeting Monday afternoon gave community members an opportunity to learn more about a planned merger between Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health.

Dignity Health runs Grass Valley’s Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

The merger was announced in December 2017 and will combine Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives to create a new nonprofit health system, the largest nonprofit hospital company by revenue.

California deputy attorney general Caitlin Noble attended and moderated the meeting.

Laurie Harting, a registered nurse and the senior vice president of Dignity Health for the Greater Sacramento area, said the merger would do little to change the quality or efficacy of care provided by Sierra Nevada Memorial.

“What won’t change,” said Harting, “is our commitment. We do not expect jobs to be reduced as a result (of the merger) and there will be no consolidation — we will not be combining facilities.”

Harting said Sierra Nevada Memorial treats more senior citizens than any other facility in California, and the merger would allow the hospital to create a stronger operational foundation.

She added that there would be no reduction in service within the system, including as they pertain to women’s health.

Many registered nurses employed at Sierra Nevada were in attendance at the meeting, a number of them speaking on behalf of the California Nurses Association.

Much concern was expressed regarding the five-year limitation on the merger’s conditions, leaving many of the nurses wondering what will happen when the five years have expired.

Many who spoke demanded an extension of the conditions, asking for a 15-year guarantee of services and conditions.

Mieke Olswang — a registered nurse at Sierra Nevada and member of the California Nurses Association — said her extensive experience in nursing has allowed her to work with patients in a number of different departments.

“I stand before you not only as (a nurse) who advocates for her patients but also as a very concerned community member,” Olswang said. “Our community would be devastated without our hospital and the services it provides. Nurses will fight to keep our hospital in tact for at least 15 more years and not the five years stated in the merger language.”

Some representing California Nurses Association said they were concerned the five-year statute would affect their ability to unionize and remain represented.

“We ask for the attorney general to guarantee our right to belong to a union,” said registered nurse Elisa Preston.

Other such concerns arose around the potential for Catholic Health Initiatives to turn Sierra Nevada Memorial into a Catholic hospital, a claim Harting denied.

From a business perspective, the Nevada County Economic Resource Council indicated the merger looks good.

“We are excited about the merger and what it will accomplish for our community,” said Tim Corkins, executive director of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council, before adding that his organization is in the business of creating area jobs and attracting digital media companies to relocate to the area.

“They look for high quality health care,” Corkins said.

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or 530-477-4231.

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