A lawsuit filed by a patients' rights group against ValleyCare Health System appears to be headed to trial.
The Patient Physician Alliance, which bills itself as a grassroots organization based in Berkeley, states in its claim that ValleyCare, which operates a hospital in Pleasanton and medical offices in Livermore, "has hired doctors through an illegally formed entity in violation of state law."
In its claim, filed in Alameda County Sept. 2, the alliance said ValleyCare must have 40 participating doctors in 10 different specialties in accordance with state law. The suit also alleges that the medical provider engages in unfair business practices.
"Specifically, the hospital is using its power to refer patients to favor its employed physicians over community doctors; it is using its real estate holdings to force doctors out of their offices and ultimately out of private practice altogether as a means of recruiting physicians into the hospital's controlled group," said Charles Bond, an attorney representing the Patient-Physician Alliance.
Bond said because of this, patients will have less choice as to who cares for them.
"The hospital is using unfair strong-arm tactics to drive private physicians out of business so the hospital can take over the entire delivery of health care in the area," he said.
The alliance had sought a restraining order forcing ValleyCare to close its medical foundation clinic immediately, but an Alameda County judge denied its request Sept. 18, ordering the suit to go to trial.
For its part, ValleyCare denies an impropriety and said the accusations are just that--accusations.
"The lobbying organization sought to convince the court that the medical foundation was not operating in compliance with a statute that exempts the medical foundation from clinic licensure requirements as a clinic that contracts with a group of 40 or more physicians," ValleyCare spokeswoman Denise Bouillerce said in a statement.
Bouillerce said the medical foundation does comply -- its 41 doctors are associated with ValleyCare Physicians Associates, which is an independent medical group owned and controlled by physicians who practice in the Tri-Valley.
ValleyCare, a nonprofit health provider, has been operating in the region since 1961.
The Patient Physician's Alliance filed an amended complaint Tuesday to challenge the judge's ruling. A trial date has not been set.