Tuesday, January 29, 2019
[Contra Costa County] Los Medanos health care district gets a reprieve from move to dissolve it
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report on the subject.
Just hours before a crucial vote that could have dissolved it, the Los Medanos Community Healthcare District received a judicial reprieve so it can make a case for remaining intact.
Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Steven Austin on Wednesday issued a temporary stay to prevent the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) from acting later that day to dismantle the embattled healthcare district before a Feb. 7 protest hearing.
“We do, in fact, want to reconcile with the county,” district board member Patt Young told the commission at its meeting later Wednesday.
“We are very much aware of how we got to this point and we are also very much aware of what we need to do to re-establish credibility,” she added. “And we are very much aware of what the needs are of the people who voted for us to serve them.”
Although Los Medanos Community Hospital closed in 1994, the district that ran it has continued to operate since then by overseeing distribution of various grants to health-related local programs, a task that critics note the county could also do.
The district, which serves Pittsburg/Bay Point and parts of Antioch, Concord, Clayton and Clyde, has been accused over the years of fiscal mismanagement.
Elizabeth Caciano, of the Hensley Law Group that represents the district, urged LAFCO to refrain from voting on its fate until several issues are resolved, including the status of the protest signatures required to stop the dissolution — at least 25 percent of the district’s registered voters.
“In our view, the commission chose the amount (the number of votes needed),” Calciano said, noting that on several occasions the commission’s staff told district staff that approximately 10,500 votes were needed, but later in January, after the votes were counted, changed the number to 11,013
“If you look at these facts, that you will hopefully re-examine that and be consistent with the statements that your staff made (earlier) rather than take the staff recommendation now of making it 11,000 votes,” she said.
But Kara Ueda of BB&K, the commission’s general counsel, noted the number of registered voters fluctuates daily as some people move and others register to vote, as was the case this fall because of the election.
In early January, election officials determined that 10,594 of the 16,635 protest signatures the healthcare district collected were valid. That was 419 votes short of the number needed to halt the dissolution.
No matter the exact numbers, Dr. J. Vern Cromartie, president of the healthcare district’s board, asked the commission to consider that thousands of people signed the petition calling for Los Medanos to remain an independent special district.
“We value the services provided by county and we want to continue having that collaborative relationship,” he said.
The Board of Supervisors first asked LAFCO to dissolve the district and transfer all of its assets and debts to the county last fall, a proposal the commission approved on Sept. 12.
District officials on Nov. 14 asked the commission to reconsider, and when their request was denied they returned on Nov. 30 to present signatures collected over a five-week period in an effort to force a public vote on the district’s dissolution.The district hired a professional petition firm to collect the signatures and has spent about $400,000 of taxpayer money to fight the dissolution so far.
The district has survived several attempts to dismantle it, including a residents’ petition in 2000 that accused it of wasting taxpayers’ money. But LAFCO at that time decided against sending it for a public vote, saying voters already have a de facto say when they cast their votes for district board members.
Despite its past financial problems, the district still owns the former hospital building on Leland and Loveridge roads, though the county has leased it and operated a health clinic there since 1998.
Earlier this year, a Contra Costa Grand Jury recommended that the district be dissolved, pointing out it spends more on administrative costs than it allocates in grants, and no longer runs a hospital. The April 19, 2018, report also detailed what the jury called fiscal mismanagement, duplication of services and a lack of transparency.
The report was the fourth one critical of the district’s operations.
California has 78 healthcare districts — special districts founded in 1946 that build and operate hospitals and other healthcare facilities and services through local taxpayer funding.
Other Bay Area healthcare districts have faced similar questions about whether they should be dissolved.
In April 2017, an Alameda County LAFCO board charged with reviewing the Eden Health District’s operations chose to keep the special district intact despite calls by some state, city and county politicians to dissolve it. The board said dissolving it was unwarranted because no plans were in place to either provide healthcare services to mid-Alameda County residents or continue the district’s practice of awarding health care grants.
Also, some taxpayer groups have called for dismantling the Sequoia Healthcare District, paid for by south San Mateo County residents through property taxes. The district opened Sequoia Hospital in 1950, but the hospital is now owned and operated by San Francisco-based Dignity Health.
January 9, 2019
East Bay Times
By Judith Prieve