Community Input & Transparency Vital at MCDH
by Marianne McGee & Terrence Vaughn
Genuine broad based community input and transparency are keystones of the issues confronting the Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH)/Mendocino Coast Healthcare District (MCHD) Board of Directors as the majority of its members face replacement November 8th.
Recently, MCDH spent $18,000 on a professional telephone survey of 251 likely voters to estimate support for a parcel tax. While results indicated with there is some strong or likely support for one of the proposed revenue raising proposals, there is not enough to garner the two thirds majority needed to pass any of them at this point. What was more surprising was while there was general positive feedback for the hospital; there was considerable concern about the administration, board of directors and its fiscal management. The most critical response from the citizens was 67% who said MCDH should absolutely NOT close Obstetrics (OB), which was first considered last March and was shot down after a July public meeting clearly voicing the need for it.
The October Board Meeting, held November 3, had an agenda item to finally appoint the volunteer ad-hoc OB Task Force, which was to work on improving the service and explore improved funding. During the board meeting, it appeared they were going to delay this action because one volunteer, Tanya Smart, is running for the MCDH board which they thought may be a Fair Political Practices Violation and because the newly elected board may only contain 2 of the current board members. Even after Tanya Smart offered to withdraw from the committee, the MCDH board attempted to delay this issue once again, until the new board is elected. It was only after the few people remaining after the break, including the citizen volunteers, objected from the audience that a compromise was reached to allow the planning committee to at least outline a charter and scope for the OB Task Force before the next regular board meeting. While the OB discussion occurred at the latter part of the meeting and was a short discussion compared to the lengthy MCDH Annual Audit and bond issuance action items, it is at the heart of the challenges facing the MCDH Board of Directors. People have limited trust in MCDH management actions now; too often it appears there is a lack of transparency, genuine public input as well as an inability to listen and respond to its citizens.
Meanwhile the current board was comfortable sending out a bond issuance for 4.5 million dollars, which also brought up the issues regarding community input and transparency. MCDH Attorney John Ruprecht outlined the process citizens can use to object to the bond offering, given the local upset regarding the lack of community input and notice. Many, including me, were not happy with the minuscule font in the tiny ad buried twice in the want ads section of the Fort Bragg Advocate. This unreadable legal notice is in direct contrast with the sizable ads placed weekly in both papers featuring the new staff at the North Coast Family Health Center (NCFHC), owned and operated by the district. In fact, Myra Beals announced she has filed a Fair Political Practices violation complaint regarding her judgment that one of these ads appeared to be an endorsement of a board candidate. Since these ads are placed weekly and having interviewed this candidate (see our MCDH Board Candidates Forum), I disagree with her conclusion as did CEO Bob Edwards. Again, the issues of trust also impact the community’s perceptions and resulting actions.
The proposal to hire an architect to assist staff in the planning process to replace or retrofit MCDH by 2030 came under fire from Dr. Glusker and members of the audience who expressed concern regarding the costs and the need for a strategic plan facilitator to solicit genuine broad based community input and developing a strategic plan, taking in to account what the hospital needs will be 13 years from now, given the drastic changes that have occurred over the recent past. Previously, hospitals were growing larger, anticipating increased patients and hospitalizations with the baby boomers, while the opposite is now true. Potential new technologies and options, including medical cannabis, as well as the specific needs of this community, such as Emergency and OB, must be explored and a strategic plan developed before jumping to this stage prematurely.
Previous construction projects have been viewed askance by the community, asking where the money went and what was accomplished. There is a massive admission facility that sits mostly empty these days, equipped to handle a huge influx of patients where there are none. This came from an administration that worked with an architect that miscalculated community needs. This admissions behemoth added new conference rooms and a physical therapy facility that competes directly with private businesses in the area, yet provided nothing of value to the healthcare mission of the hospital. We are paying on that bond issuance today. MCDH is required to do a Community Health Survey soon, which could fit into this process very well. This premature proposal to gather architect names and develop a scope of services also passed with a 5-0 vote. Imagine a private person or business hiring an architect before they knew what they needed in their facility and then asking for funding from investors to build such building. They would be laughed out of the investors meeting, yet that is exactly what the board is asking local property owners to invest in, an unknown!
Other important business was the 2015 Audit approval, which does have an interesting overview reflecting the current state of the hospital which is worth reading and available by contacting the MCDH CEO office. The Board did finally approve the executive management software we discussed in a previous post and clip included in the MCDH Candidates Forum I facilitated on Mendocino TV. And, while there was a computer problem that rendered the Financial Report incorrect and not actionable at this point, CFO Wade Sturgeon reported there was enough cash on hand so he probably doesn’t need to borrow the $500,000 needed to make a federal transfer which brings even more money back to MCDH, which is the program state ballot measure 52 will make permanent.
Building a healthy community involves many aspects and healthcare is a primary factor. Building a healthy community also requires an educated and involved citizenry. We owe it to our families, our citizens and the future of the Mendocino Coast to keep current on these issues, especially MCDH/MCHD. That is at the heart of what Mendocino TV hopes to accomplish as we hard to bring you the information you need!