By Chris White
A judge once gave Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris qualified immunity after a healthcare company sued the former California attorney general for allegedly blocking the company’s attempt to purchase a financially struggling Catholic hospital.
Prime Healthcare Services sued Harris for supposedly imposing strict conditions on the sale of the Daughters of Charity Health System in exchange for millions of dollars in contributions.
Prime scuttled the deal and claimed in the 2015 lawsuit that executives at Daughters told the company that Harris would block the sale if Prime did not agree to unionize Daughters’ network of six hospitals. The lawsuit alleges Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) in return promised to support Harris with $25 million in contributions.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected Harris as his running mate Tuesday as he prepares for what will likely be an intense general election.
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that shields public officials from liability for violating citizen’s constitutional liberties. Harris, a former California prosecutor, introduced a Senate resolution in June alongside Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey to eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement officers.
Their bill came amid protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. (RELATED: Phone Audio Shows Dispatcher Was Concerned With George Floyd Response)
Harris “abused her constitutional authority by placing her need for political financial support over the health-care needs of the people,” Troy Schell, general counsel for Prime, said in a 2015 statement. Prime alleged that Harris effectively “forced the company to withdraw its offer for the DCHS hospitals, jeopardizing health care in these underserved communities.”
Daughters’ board of directors selected Prime to take over the hospitals in 2014, HealthCare Finance reported in 2015. Prime’s $843 million offer far exceeded all other proposals and allowed Daughters Charity’s healthcare mission to continue. The deal also would have protected the unfunded pensions of the hospital network’s then-17,000 staff, according to HealthCare’s report.
Harris imposed several “poison pills” to the deal, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board noted in the Wednesday report. These included a condition forcing Prime to continue hospital operations unchanged for 10 years — the “requirement that would have made it impossible to save the hospitals,” according to Prime’s lawsuit.
Harris, who at the time was responsible for approving such acquisitions, also required Prime to maintain 24-hour nursing at the hospital, as well as surgery, anesthesia, laboratory, radiology and pharmacies for five years. In addition, she mandated that hospitals offer 12 to 18 services such as orthopedics for 10 years. “These conditions were unprecedented,” The Journal noted.
Integrity Healthcare took over the hospitals in July 2015 before going bankrupt in 2018 due in part to the expense of managing the network, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2018. Verity Health, which is managed by Integrity, had more than $1 billion of debt from bonds and unfunded pension liabilities as a result of taking on Daughters.
Santa Clara County, Calif. bought two of the six hospitals in 2019, according to Mercury News. Prime Healthcare purchased another hospital in April, with California hospital operator AHMC Healthcare buying the remaining two in March, media reports show. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Harris’s successor, approved both the AHMC and Prime deals in July.
Harris has not responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about the lawsuit and Prime’s claims.
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