6/26/23 Update! Sutter Health has announced that the pool will reopen in July 2024!
The $4 million Mickelson Center was financed entirely by community donations—including $1.5 million from the late philanthropist Mack E. Mickelson. We also know—because they are cemented into the south wall of the therapy pool facility—that more than 200 private donations were given in exchange for names imprinted into these tiles. (The $4 million donated in 1996 translates into $7,160,000 in today's money.)
We believe that the Mickelson annex (opened in May 1996) to the original Mills Hospital building was constructed during ownership by Mills Health Center; however, the dates of acquisition by Sutter Health of the entire Mills-Peninsula Health Center system were so close in time we have not yet determined those facts for certain.
In March of 2020, the Mickelson therapy pool was closed as a result of the San Mateo COVID-19 shelter-in-place county directive. Unlike other therapy pools in San Francisco and San Jose that successfully reopened after their local public health orders were rescinded, Mickelson did not.
For the past two years, Sutter Health—through Mills-Peninsula Medical Center CEO Janet Wagner—has offered shifting explanations for why the Mickelson therapy pool remains closed. In March of 2020, Sutter claimed that the closure would be temporary, although therapy pool employees represent that in January 2021, Sutter management informed them the closure was permanent. Sutter did not announce the permanent closure until June 2021 with a letter to former Mickelson therapy pool users claiming that the closure was due to “the continued uncertainty presented by COVID-19, [their] focus on providing quality acute care services and [their] ongoing efforts to be good stewards of [their] resources.”
SUTTER'S SHIFTING STORIES
1. In addition to citing COVID as a reason for the therapy pool closure, Ms. Wagner claimed the pool was closing for “financial reasons” and that an estimated $250,000 repair bill and future operating costs made reopening the pool economically unfeasible. But in April 2021, the Peninsula Health Care District (PHCD) received an independent financial report of Sutter’s operations. (See financial analysis by G.L. Hicks, LLC located under the resources tab on this website.) This report shows that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Sutter Corporate—the parent company of Sutter Mills-Peninsula—had approximately $7.8 billion in total cash, cash equivalents, and investments as of Dec. 31, 2020. Furthermore, Sutter Health received $850 million of federal CARES Act funds for the purpose of continuing operations during COVID—all from public tax dollars.
It is important to note that in February 2022, PHCD offered to pay for repairs and ongoing management until a new therapy pool could become available. Sutter declined. This generous offer was reiterated to Ms. Wagner at a May 2022 PHCD meeting. Again, Sutter declined.
2. When asked about the discrepancy between Sutter’s financial health and the cost of repairing the therapy pool in July 2021, Ms. Wagner apparently offered a different explanation—that Sutter Health Corporate management had made the decision to close all three of its therapy pools in northern California.
3. In December of 2021, Sutter, through Ms. Wagner, offered yet another explanation—returning to the initial claim—that the pool had to remain closed due to “legal and regulatory requirements” related to COVID protocols for healthcare therapy pools. However, comparable therapy pools in the Bay Area have continued to operate despite requirements related to COVID. The Pomeroy Center in San Francisco reopened in March 2021, in full compliance with the city of San Francisco’s public health requirements, with zero instances of COVID transmission attributed to their facility. (See letters from David Dubinsky under the resources tab.)
4. One final explanation was offered by PHCD CEO Cheryl Fama to the Sequoia Healthcare District in February 2022. “I will quote or paraphrase nearly quoting directly Ms. Wagner’s statement. [Sutter Health is saying] that they’re very concerned about the economic forces and strains that they were starting to experience before. And now with COVID and the costs of operating just their acute care hospital, [CEO Wagner’s] position was stated that they exist to primarily address acute and tertiary health issues. Their focus is going to be complete on life-saving types of services such as neurology, their stroke mobile, their cardiology services and cancer services. And as you may know, they have closed their Senior Focus, they closed their cardiac rehab, they’ve now closed the pool. That was her statement of why they did it...”
Over the past 15 years, Sutter has closed over 22 community programs that provided quality of life for San Mateo County residents. (See list of MCMP program closures under the resources tab.) Without intervention, the Mickelson therapy pool appears destined to be just another chapter in Sutter’s pattern of malfeasance in favor of its bottom line.
We are uncertain at this time what the plans are for the space. There has been a lack of transparency on the part of Sutter Health. When asked that question in July 22, 2021, Sutter Health Mills-Peninsula Medical Center CEO Janet Wagner replied that there were no plans as of yet.
We do not have access to any of the therapy pool records. Our evaluation of the use of the pool is experiential. The facility was an invaluable resource for chronic pain management and rehabilitation for seniors, disabled individuals, patients recovering from surgeries, children with special needs, and pregnant women. Because this facility was the only pool on the Peninsula specifically designed for therapeutic use, patrons drove from all over—Half Moon Bay, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.
1. Fitness program: In earlier days, under former management, there was a very strong Monday-Friday community group exercise program with approximately a dozen different class formats to accommodate varying fitness needs, serving several hundred community participants weekly from all over the Peninsula.
2. Independent community “open access”: The independent exercise program was well-attended by San Mateo County residents, as well as Bay Area citizens. The facility was open to the community six days a week (excluding Sundays.)
3. Physical therapy: Physical therapists with aquatic therapy training worked with insurance-backed patients two or three afternoons each week, likely a total of 9-12 patients each session including a pediatric program.
The Mickelson pool is a fully accessible ADA-compliant rehabilitation pool with a ramp that descends into the water, a chair lift, and a Hoyer lift for quadriplegics.
There are no other facilities on the Peninsula that offer the same amenities. The two alternative pools recommended by Sutter Health are recreational pools and not designed for therapeutic exercise. In addition to having much cooler temperatures, they are not accessible. Frail seniors or disabled individuals cannot safely or effectively enter and cannot exercise when other patrons are doing vigorous, water-churning lap swimming nearby or when children are throwing pool toys back and forth.
Let Sutter Health hear from you! Pool users and supporters can write to Sutter Health, expressing their concerns and the need for the Mickelson therapy pool to be reopened. Letters, etc. should be sent to Sutter Health's executive staff and board of directors, as follows:
Address: Sutter Health, 2200 River Plaza Drive, Sacramento, CA 95833
Warner Thomas, President and CEO (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Grace Davis, Vice President and Chief Public Affairs Officer/Chief of Staff
Board of Directors:
Address: Sutter Health, 2200 River Plaza Drive, Sacramento, CA 95833
Herbert Brereton Barlow, Board Chair
Cheryl Scott, Board Secretary
James Ferrara, M.D.
I-Mei Hsiu, M.D.
Helen MacLeod Thomson
Sutter Health Mills-Peninsula Medical Center
Address: 1501 Trousdale Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010
Janet Wagner, CEO (email@example.com)