Employees and doctors at Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas are speaking out in support of Dignity Health as it competes against Adventist Health for control of the hospital and its five community clinics in Calaveras County.

More than 130 staff members and 24 health care providers who work at the hospital and clinics signed petitions in favor of remaining under Dignity Health, which were released Tuesday before the Mark Twain Health Care District Board of Directors was scheduled to meet behind closed doors this morning to discuss the competing proposals.

“These petitions arose out of the collective concern for continuing the culture that currently exists among the members of our team,” stated Shawna Parker, a registered nurse and deputized member of the Service Employees International Union that represents staff at the hospital.

Andrew Jahn, chief executive officer of Adventist Health Sonora, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The district has been weighing its options as it nears the end of a 30-year lease agreement with Mark Twain Medical Center Corporation and its partner Dignity Health that expires Dec. 31, 2019.

A study undertaken earlier this year on whether the district could afford to independently operate the medical facilities determined that independence would be the most expensive and risky option, and continuing negotiations with Dignity Health or another organization should be considered.

Signers of the petitions in support of extending the partnership with Dignity Health included staff members from inpatient services and medical units, maintenance, as well as satellite clinics in Angels Camp, San Andreas, and Valley Springs.

“The core value of Dignity Health, the strong relationship with the union, and the culture that we have developed together are the reasons we stand unified to remain Dignity Health,” Parker stated in an email regarding the release of the petitions.

Dignity Health, based in San Francisco, operates 39 hospitals and more than 400 care centers in California, Arizona and Nevada, as well as 60,000 caregivers in 21 states. It is considered the fifth-largest health system in the U.S. and the largest not-for-profit hospital provider in California.

Parker said the district has held employee forums to inform staff it’s considering proposals from both organizations.

The timeline for when the board will make a decision is unclear, but whatever agreement is selected will also have to be approved by voters in the district. Parker said the petitions have been circulated among staff since September and are intended to show where they stand.

Dr. Randy Smart, the district’s executive director, stated in an e-mail that the district is entering the final weeks of hospital lease negotiations and recognized that is an “especially important” time for the community to provide input.

“The district will be holding meetings, as we have throughout the year, with stakeholders and the general public,” Smart stated, noting that meeting dates are announced on the district’s website, in the media and through e-mails. “We really want to get this right for our great county.”

Parker added that another reason behind the staff’s support for Dignity Health is to continue providing choices in health care to the surrounding area.

An agreement with Mark Twain Health Care District could give Adventist Health control of hospitals and their associated medical offices in San Andreas, Lodi and Sonora.

Based in Roseville, Adventist Health bills itself as a faith-based, nonprofit integrated health system that operates 20 hospitals and 280-plus clinics in more than 75 communities across California, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii.

The system includes Adventist Health Sonora, formerly Sonora Regional Medical Center, a 152-bed hospital at 1000 Greenley Road in Sonora, as well as more than 20 medical offices throughout Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

Adventist Health Sonora is also nearing completion on a $36 million cancer center and outpatient pavilion under construction at the northeast corner of Greenley Road and Mono Way in Sonora, with the opening anticipated in 2018.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.