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Alameda Hospital’s Dr. Robert Deutsch Under FPPC Investigation

Documents provided to Action Alameda News indicate that the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is investigating Alameda Hospital doctor and Alameda Health Care District Board Member Dr. Robert Deutsch following citizen allegations of conflict of interest.

A January 10, 2011 letter to Dr. Deutsch, indicating that a complaint had been filed against him, and that the Commission was investigating the matter, was also copied to the complainant, Denise Lai of Alameda. Late last summer, Ms. Lai went public with a story of her experience at Alameda Hospital, during which she says the Hospital almost killed her. The cover letter sent to Ms. Lai by Roman Porter, Executive Director of the FPPC, reads, in part, “This letter is to notify you that the Enforcement Division of the Fair Political Practices Commission will investigate the allegation(s), under the jurisdiction of the Commission…”

In her complaint letter to the FPPC, Ms. Lai alleged that Dr. Deutsch has “a significant financial conflict of interest,” under California Government Code Section 1090 because:

a. Dr. Deutsch is an Alameda Hospital District board member and board Vice President
i. he votes annually on whether to levy a parcel tax to support the hospital, $5.6M per yr
ii. without these monies, the hospital could not stay open
iii. even after 8 years of parcel taxes, the hospital is broke and cannot afford to run itself

b. In the California State Form 700 submitted by Dr. Deutsch on May 3, 2010 shows he gains these revenue amounts from the following sources:
1. Over $100,000: East Bay Pulmonary Clinic, 2070 Clinton Ave, Alameda, CA
2. Over $100,000: Dr. Deutsch MD Inc. 2070 Clinton Ave, Alameda, CA

c. Dr. Deutsch’s revenue sources are from the same address as the hospital’s

d. Without the parcel tax being levied, approved by the hospital board each year, Dr. Deutsch’s Clinic and Corporation, both, would lose significant revenue if not have to relocate or go out of business. taht is to say:

Both of Dr. Deutsch’s businesses, the Clinic and the Corporation, are fully DEPENDENT upon the hospital being in business, AND the hospital is fully DEPENDENT upon the parcel tax which Dr. deutsch votes to approve each year.

Action Alameda News has reviewed the FPPC letters, the complaint, Dr. Deutsch’s Form 700 referenced by Ms. Lai, and the contracts and leases between Dr. Deutsch and Alameda Hospital.

In December of last year, Dr. Deutsch denied to Action Alameda News that there is any conflict of interest, and he wrote at that time:

The question you raise has been answered by the California Legislature which has determined that the ability of members of hospital district medical staffs to participate fully on district boards of directors should not be impeded by the existence of contracts where similar contracts exist with other medical staff members and the amounts payable under the contracts are no greater than the amounts payable under similar contracts with other physicians covering the same or similar services. The Legislature thus clarified in the California Health and Safety Code that the existence of such contracts would not create the type of legal barrier/conflict-of-interest that would preclude the type of action about which you inquired. The Legislature concluded that medical staff members bring unique health care knowledge and perspective to district board membership that enhance the collective ability of a district board to carry out its responsibilities, and that the participation of such medical staff members on district boards should not be discouraged or limited by the existence of these types of contracts.

In addition, I vote each year to continue the parcel tax to support the hospital’s operations because I believe that is what the majority of the residents of Alameda want, as evidenced by their voting patterns as well as the thousands of interactions I have each year with them professionally and socially. I received 10,900 votes in the last election, running on a platform of supporting our local district hospital as a critical asset to the quality and safety of life in Alameda. Thus, not to vote on continuing to provide parcel tax funds for the purpose of assisting hospital operations would be illogical and inconsistent with my position and beliefs. I would, of course, recuse myself from any vote on any issue that had direct bearing on the contracts that my medical group has with the hospital.

I am also surprised that there are “activists” that are trying to destroy a community hospital that has served local residents for over 100 years, that helps save our lives on a daily basis, that provides a broad array of basic and complex medical care close to our homes, and has received a two thirds vote of financial support from Alamedans just a few years ago. I can understand constructive criticism of a public service organization to prod it to improve performance, but much of what I have seen on your blog recently is misinformed, negative and accusatory. I would be happy to respond in the future to civil requests for information that can inform or give my perspective on issues related to Alameda Hospital.


Robert Deutsch M.D.

23 comments to Alameda Hospital’s Dr. Robert Deutsch Under FPPC Investigation

  • Barb

    What a self-serving load of bull-crap! I assume the way he interprets the law, he also a lawyer.
    The precise question which is now being investigated by that lackadaisical enforcement agency the FPPC, is whether this doctor can continue to vote to force the citizens of Alameda to pay $300 per parcel so that he can earn over $200,000 per year of that money. Sounds like over 666 parcel owners should just be writing checks to Dr. Deutsch.
    Alameda Hospital is another one of the anarchronisms of the past that has been forced upon taxpayers by a vocal/voting minority. First by doctors who could not be bothered to get up early in the morning to perform a C-section, resulting in 15 million damages recovery to the victim of the Alameda Hospital and its doctors, and now by doctors who want to maintain enormous incomes at the expense of better quality medical care so that they do not have to drive though the tube like the rest of Alamedans to get to work. No wonder the cost of medical care keeps rising for the average folk. We have to support below standard medical treatment in non-earthquake proof buildings, so that arrogant doctors such as Deutsch convince themselves that ripping us off is for our own good. Amazing!

    Thank goodness for Kaiser.

  • I agree with Deutsch about this: It is confusing that so many Alamedans continue to support a hospital that is dangerously outdated and unsafe. It’s per day patient costs are about half that of the average Bay Area hospital. That’s not good fiscal management: That’s dangerously low funding levels, signaling dangerous care. Alameda Hospital may have been a good place to go for care at one time, but its fallen catastrophically behind the norm. Now it’s the worst possible place for heart attacks, stroke and any real emergency. And, you plain can’t have your baby here – after killing one, they were forced to stop pretending to provide that care.

    It is also confusing to me that Alamedans voted for an eternal parcel tax for a hospital that has struggled financially since it’s inception. Throwing good money after bad.

    I hope someone will look into how much of our parcel tax goes into the 401Ks of hospital employees and the lawsuits over erroneous and negligent care, because that’s all I can figure they’re doing with the money.

  • Anonymous

    Do they ever say they won’t investigate? Is this anything more than a form letter?

  • Barb

    I don’t believe they killed the baby, just left him in a vegetative state for his parents and society to care for while Deutsche et all were cashing their checks.

  • Yes, they do say they won’t investigate. All complaints are screened by an intake panel and vetted before being passed on for an investigation, or rejected back to the complainant.

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  • Karen Zimmerman

    I find all of this confusing. However, I do want a safe, well-equipped hospital on the island. I had only one occasion to visit the Alameda hospital, and that was in 2002, when I had surgery there on my sinuses. It was fine. I don’t want to get trucked to Oakland in an emergency.

    I’ve heard horror stories about every hospital around. I’ve heard one about the Alameda hospital – are there others? Where can I find them?

  • Anon

    Alameda Hospital is not a trauma center, so in case of emergency one better hope that one is trucked to Oakland.

  • Anonymous

    Anecdotes do not make a case. You can find horror stories about any hospital. What matters is whether there’s a substantial and statistically significant difference in outcomes. I don’t know whether Alameda Hospital is any good (I had surgery there that was very good but that too merely provides another anecdote) but nothing posted on the Facebook page demonstrates systematic incompetence.

  • Barb

    If the FPPC renders a finding consistent with California law, that the doctor is in violation of Gov. Code Sec. 1090, then there is no statute of limitations and treble damages are to be recovered from the doctor.

    This is what the Courts say:

    Eldridge v. Sierra View Local Hosp. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 311, in which the 5th District overturned the firing a nurse employed by the district who was elected to the Board. She was allowed to sit on the Board, but not to vote on any contract which affected her. The Court stated, “She cites, as an example, to the fact that one of the board members, Dr. Natzke, is a physician. However, there is no evidence to support her claim that he is affiliated with the hospital other than in his position as a board member. The only evidence on the question of his relationship to the hospital is the declaration of the hospital administrator, Roger Good, in which he states that Dr. Natzke is not under contract with the hospital, is not employed by the hospital, and does not receive any compensation from the hospital district. There is no evidence that Dr. Natzke is similarly situated in terms of the extent of his relationship with the hospital and the potential for conflict between his personal interests and the interests of the hospital district.”

    Here the Hospital District is Alameda Hospital.

    While section 1090 is confined to the making of contracts, the Political Reform Act applies more broadly to cover participation in any “governmental decision” in which one has a financial interest. (See § 87100.)

    “[T]he term ‘financially interested’ in section 1090 cannot be interpreted in a restricted and technical manner.” (People v. Honig, supra, 48 Cal.App.4th at p. 315.) The defining characteristic of a prohibited financial interest is whether it has the potential to divide an official’s loyalties and compromise the undivided representation of the public interests the official is charged with protecting. (See Stigall v. City of Taft, supra, 58 Cal.2d at p. 569.) Thus, that the interest “might be small or indirect is immaterial so long as it is such as deprives the [people] of his overriding fidelity to [them] and places him in the compromising situation where, in the exercise of his official judgment or discretion, he may be influenced by personal considerations rather than the public good.” (Terry v. Bender (1956) 143 Cal. App. 2d 198, 208 [300 P.2d 119]; see also Thomson v. Call, supra, 38 Cal.3d at p. 645 [direct and indirect interests are equally prohibited].) Lexin v. Superior Court, (2010) 47 Cal. 4th 1050.

    So if the doctor did not vote to tax Alamedans in order to keep the hospital open, would he have lost more than $200,000 annually in income? Could this explain the protocol to take stroke patients to Alameda Hospital when better treatment was available elsewhere? And other suspect procedures which add income to Alameda Hospital regardless of quality of care?

    We all owe Denise Lai a thank you for pointing this out.

  • Yea, but the numbers don’t look so good on that front either. That’s been discussed on this site before, on this thread and others.

  • DHL

    The Alameda Hospital District or the Alameda Hospital threatened to sue Alameda County EMS in 2005 if they did not specify stroke victims get transported to Alameda Hospital. Why ACEMS caved, I have no idea. That is reprehensible. But more reprehensible is the district and/or the hospital’s threat to sue the ACEMS instead of also wanting best medical practices for Alamedans AND their continued campaign of giving medical advice in order to keep as many patients as possible at Alameda Hospital even when they don’t belong (they tried it last week with a friend who walked in presenting with stroke symptoms; they got VERY pissy and hostile when she asked to go to a stroke center). The saving grace of Alameda has been this: paramedics have taken stroke victims off island anyway. Thank you paramedics!

  • DHL

    The death rate for strokes at Alameda Hospital runs around 12%. While at primary stroke centers, it runs between 6 and 8%. But remember, that 12% was for a fraction of the strokes in our city because all acute cases were taken off island by paramedics. So 12% for walk-ins, which are typically milder cases, is a pretty staggering statistic.

  • Barb

    So does anyone really beleive that TAM and BONTA former Board members whose watch this happened upon, have the slightest concern for what is best for Alameda or Alamedans? Or the ability to understand the concepts of conflict of interest? TAM has proven not, and BONTA, our Yale law grad, is apparently unaware of any laws governing it.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, DHL, useful comments. Do you have the number of observations? Barb, not so much. Same old bitter screed. Do you never tire of it?

  • Barb

    Nope. As long as only a few persons seem aware of how the community is being manuipulated, never. What does it take to provoke thought about this conflict of interest? Been to Auscwitz and Berkinow, and never cease to be amazed at how “well-meaning” humans would prefer to turn a blind eye to aggregious behavior by those in power, than speak up. How many dead or physically/mentally restricted stroke victims are OK, Anonymous? 10%? 12%? 20%? Will it take your aged parents or loved ones turned into vegetables? One measure of a person is what it takes to get their “goat” or to motivate them. Some get upset with bitter screed, but not by officials’ misconduct, condoned by other officials’ incompetence, or just plain turning their minds from responsibilities to constitutents. Feel free to read the cases cited, and see if the courts have a different take on conflict of interest than the legislators cited.

    Just chalk this up to more “bitter screed”, and make me the problem, rather than focus on Dr. Deutsch and those who leave him in office, but I wonder if the doctor gets free/reduced rent for his votes? And if the Directors have allowed this to happen, what else is going on? Are we so naive as to believe everything else is being done properly?

  • Anonymous

    Right, Barb, let’s bring in the Holocaust comparisons; is that how you learned to argue at law school?

    Of course 0% mortality is better. That’s not the question. The question is whether the mortality rate is measurably worse than elsewhere. I do hope you know a little more about law than you do about statistics.

    Frankly, your tone is so often hysterical that it’s impossible to figure out when there’s a real issue. To shove in another animal cliche, you cry wolf (or, as you might put it, WOLF) on an almost daily basis.

  • Okay Anonymous… where are your statistics?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t have any. Nor do you. That’s my point.

  • Not true. Denise Lai provided her statistics, and I provided links to earlier discussions on this topic on this very website.

  • Like most apologists on this site, I suspect Anonymous has some vested interest at Alameda Hospital. As a cardiac patient whose care was seriously compromised by being taken to AH, I have personal experience of the EMS protocols which put lives in danger, almost very day. And as a professional writer and journalist, I find Barb’s post reasonable, articulate and far from “hysterical.” Every bit as convincing as her knowledge of the law. Anonymous is no literary critic!

  • Barb

    Focus on making detracting comments on the the commentors in order to divert attention from the real problem:

    The question is sidestepped by such phrasing as whether the “mortality rate is measurably worse than elsewhere”. Not so. Mortality rates cannot be compared objectively when such factors as protocols that first take stroke victims to Alameda Hospital, then as that delicate window of time evaporates, the patient is shuttled to an approved stroke treatment or trauma facility. The patient is left to die or decline at Highland, Eden, Sutter, Kaiser etc. Alameda Hospital’s figures are artificially inflated, while the other hospitals figures are weighed down. Statistics and those that use them, lie.

    Can any appropriate analysis would be able to be made unless those subjective factors are removed from the equation?
    And yes, my knowledge of the law, at least as to Government Code Sec. 1090 is right up there. And much better than that of Dr. Deutsch. I would rather have a decision made based on protocols governing medical care for one’s loved ones, made by someone setting policies that were not based on keeping that individual earning more than $200,000 plus from the cardiac policies upon which he voted. And the good news is still that under Gov. Code Sec. 1090 et. seq. if anyone choses to sue him and or the district, that there is no statute of limitations, and treble damages are available for any recovery. I hope when Ms. Lai receives whatever decision the FPPC makes, that she goes the further step and contacts a good attorney in the field. Any taxpayer, resident or voter is free to do the same.

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