Agha Says ‘More!’
Local entrepreneur sweetens offer for Natividad.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Pacific Grove entrepreneur Nader Agha, who last month offered to buy Natividad Medical Center for $75 million, says he’s ready to up his bid for the cash-strapped County-owned hospital.
“We are looking to increase the price drastically,” he says.
Agha, who has been “in diligent negotiations” with hospital management companies, declined to place a dollar amount on his new offer.
County Administrative Officer Lew Bauman confirmed that he has met with Agha, and that Agha’s new bid “is a more significant, broad-reaching and innovative proposal.”
Agha has a lot of unfinished deals in the works. He hopes to build a desalination plant on land he owns in Moss Landing, and has recently expressed interest in buying The Herald; he has also proposed a nine-story hotel-and-condo building in Pacific Grove, where Holman’s now stands, and wants to tear down the old Carmel Inn and replace it with condos and affordable apartments for seniors.
And now comes his enhanced bid on Natividad. “The county will benefit a great deal from our offer,” he says.
The hospital is facing an estimated $25 million deficit this year. If he purchases Natividad, Agha says all of the existing clinics and programs will remain intact. He also plans to add additional services, including a wellness center, a physical therapy and training clinic, a recovery center and preventative health care.
“I have a strong conviction that Natividad hospital is the jewel of the county,” Agha says. “We, as residents, put a lot of money into those buildings. This jewel could be converted into a state-of-the-art medical facility.”
Agha points to the St. Helena Center in Napa Valley as a model. Located on the campus of the St. Helena Hospital, it was originally founded as a health retreat in the hills overlooking the Napa Valley. It now includes a set of residential programs where teams of doctors, psychologists, nutritionists, and other experts work with people to develop healthier lifestyles.
“Our team has put forward the best, the strongest offer which makes all the sense in the world—politics aside,” Agha says. “If common sense, logic and business practices prevail, our offer should be accepted.”
In late February, after receiving a report from an independent accountant warning that Natividad’s financial woes would cost the county more than $100 million in the next five years, County Supervisors agreed to unload the hospital—either selling it, or transferring it to another medical center in the area. They also decided to implement some immediate cuts, including closing several clinics, to lessen the financial losses.
Also at the Board of Supervisors’ Feb. 28 meeting, Agha made a surprise offer to purchase the hospital for $75 million. Supervisors took the offer under submission, but instead decided to work with Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, a quasi-public hospital also located in Salinas. Salinas Valley Memorial officials will propose some type of transaction with Natividad in upcoming weeks.
But according to Agha, Salinas Valley Memorial—along with the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and Mee Memorial Hospital in King City—is part of the problem.
“The three other hospitals have been taking advantage of Natividad hospital by refusing to take the non-paying patients and sending them to the county’s medical facility,” he says. “The time has come to put an end to it.
“If the county continues to deal with Salinas Valley and negotiate a joint contract for them to run Natividad hospital, it’s the same as rewarding Salinas Valley.”
Nativdad is the county’s safety-net hospital, committed to serving all residents regardless of ability to pay. This means that the county’s poorest people, those who don’t have health insurance or are under insured, use Natividad, although spokespeople say that only 9 percent of the hospital’s patients have no insurance.
The larger money drain stems from the fact that the majority of its patients, about 71 percent, rely on state or federal health programs, like Medi-Cal and Medicare, which do not cover the total cost of procedures, and have continually shrinking rates of reimbursement.
Anecdotally, Natividad doctors and patients tell stories about poor people being turned away from the other emergency rooms, and sent to the county-owned hospital.
“For years, they have been overloading Natividad and enjoying the profits from good-paying patients,” Agha says. “Natividad can’t carry the entire load of non-paying patients. The other hospitals must do their share.”