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San Mateo County Holds Emotional Meeting About Closing Seton Medical Center

DALY CITY (KPIX 5) -- Seton Medical Center's owners could announce its closure in a few days, a San Mateo county supervisor said Wednesday ahead of an emotionally charged meeting to discuss how the county could save the hospital.

"The devastation that's going to occur is going to be tremendous," said Supervisor David Canepa. "We're going to have emergency rooms throughout the county that are stressed, people who need care, especially those who are elderly communities of color, this is a tragedy."

Supervisors held a study session Wednesday night to talk about either partnering with the hospital's owners or acquiring it altogether in order to keep its doors from closing. Santa Clara County leaders were able to save San Jose's O'Connor Hopsital and Gilroy's St. Louise Regional Center by purchasing them from the struggling Verity, which owns Seton Medical Center.

Verity has filed bankruptcy, but, according to Canepa, has rejected at least two bids from potential buyers who want to continue operating Seton as a hospital.

Frustration has boiled over in the last few weeks as county leaders feel a lack of transparency from Verity and Seton.

Canepa told the crowd that packed city hall that they had invited Verity's CEO to the meeting, but he was a no show. Instead, Verity's attorney attended, but told the room that he wasn't allowed to answer Canepa's questions about the hospital's possible closure next week.

"You know that I cannot talk to you or the audience about attorney client privilege communications," the attorney said. "I have ethical obligations as a member of the state bar, I can't do what you're asking me to do. I know this is entertaining, but I can't answer questions about my communications with my client."

The room was filled with many of Seton's employees who wondered whether they would soon be losing their jobs. Many stood up to speak and plea to supervisors to help save Seton, as well as address Verity's attorney.

"Shame on you," said one woman who identified herself as a Seton nurse. "We know what Verity has done, they are crooks."

Canepa said he believes the owners of Seton are acting on "greed" with plans to sell the massive property to make a profit. The supervisors announced they would hold a special meeting on Friday since the study session did not allow them to make any decisions on their next step.

Seton, which is the city's largest employer and sees at least 20,000 patients a year in its emergency room alone, serves many low-income residents, according to Canepa. He said its closure would force many patients outside the county, which would push them farther from their homes and relatives.

"The county has a responsibility to make additional contributions and see what we can do, if worse comes to worse, acquire the hospital," Canepa said.

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