Citizens Input Impacts May Mendocino Coast District Hospital Board of Directors

Packed Crowd Voices MCDH Concerns

Editorial by Marianne McGee, MA/ABS

People attending and speaking up at the Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) Board of Directors meeting in May had a variety of concerns  reflective of the belief that the MCDH Board and Management staff do not have their finger on the pulse of the community. It did appear by the end of the meeting that some fears may have been heard and there may be some rapprochement  by Directors and the Public in the future.

The public’s relationship with MCDH has soured recently when the OB controversy reappeared after the issue seemed settled and after multiple surveys showed, after ER, OB to be the most desired fixture of our District Hospital. Two of the recently elected Directors, Campos and Miller, chair the Planning and Finance committees and are still learning how to lead a structured and effective committee meeting. Both Campos and Miller acknowledged that they see places they can improve upon, specifically in the realm of public comment and the Brown Act, and will make changes accordingly.

Former MCDH Board Member and long time Planning Committee member Mike Dell’Ara tendered his committee resignation and read from a prepared statement. He reiterated his dissatisfaction from the previous Planning Committee meeting, where he had expressed grave concern over the fact MCDH had spent $80,000 for a study that resulted in a long term plan now abandoned. He said that previous administrations had successfully used it to engage in an inclusive process which produced positive outcomes. CEO Edwards had dismissed his concerns by repeatedly saying this committee and the board had voted on his 9 point Strategic Initiatives Plan, so this is what MCDH was using now. Mr. Dell’Ara clearly thought his time and energy could be put to better use elsewhere, so now both he and Dr. Jim Katzel have resigned. Watch their interchange on the clip below.

Carole White expressed her dissatisfaction with the discussion from the May MCDH Finance Committee meeting, where Dr. Lucas Campos had refused to hear any public input on action items and only allowed people to talk at the end of the 2 hour meeting. Her concerns included the lack of civil discussion, lack of collaboration, and the hubris of requesting public support for financial stability while cutting off any public input. Watch her reactions and concerns on the Financial Committee clip.

Howard Hauck expressed his concerns as well, after viewing Mendocino TV’s coverage of the Finance Committee. He cited Brown Act violations of not allowing input as well as frustration with the ongoing issue of MCDH requesting a parcel tax without istening to the voters.

Ray Duff addressed the agenda item to increase the CEO’s spending limit without Board approval to $100,000 except for construction contracts. He believes the community is not ready to let CEO Edwards have this power and there are ways to spend quickly if needed! Carole White had also weighed in against this change as well.

Since many people spoke up during the initial community comments item, President Lund extended it a few minutes. As addressed in a previous Mendocino TV post, a number of people were also concerned about the continuation of Obstetrics and women’s health issues.

While the meeting was initially quite tense, the atmosphere shifted some as a result of the meeting’s accomplishments. After lengthy discussions, the MCDH Board did grant Mr. Edwards the ability to spend up to $100,000 without prior Board approval, with the expectation he would report those items promptly. Given the size of the organization and its complex budget, it did eventually appear reasonable to me, as long as it is tightly monitored.

Chairperson Miller, while giving his Planning Committee update, graciously allowed Mr. Dell’Ara to finish his statement as he was cut off with the 3 minute public comment limit the first time. Dr. Miller appeared to listen to these concerns and agreed to meet with him in the future, although it did appear that his resignation stood firm. Dr. Miller also promised future meetings will be improved.

Dr. Campos, commenting on the Finance Committee report, did briefly indicate he will also allow more public input in the future at those meetings.

At the beginning of the meeting I noticed President Lund mentioned some items under the auspices of the Brown Act that was different from business as usual.  The most interesting change was that Dr. Peter Glusker, participating telephonically, would not be able to legally vote.  On numerous occasions, MCDH Board Members have participated this way and voted along with those present, even by name with a roll call vote.  The Brown Act requires that the teleconference location must be accessible to the public, which is not the case since usually a member is calling from home.

Given these verbal changes it made me wonder if Attorney John Ruprecht had schooled the hospital board and staff on the Brown Act prior to the meeting, in response to all the citizen complaints.  If so, I am glad to see them start to be more respectful and to conduct meetings utilizing the Brown Act.

The entire foundation of the Brown Act is to conduct public business transparently and to encourage citizen participation. There are very limited conditions under which closed meetings are held and still require legal notice be given and reporting requirements as to the decisions made. Brown Act enforcement is much more difficult and it appears violations are generally a slap on the hand although could potentially invalidate a decision.

To remain viable, Mendocino Coast District Hospital needs our support as voters, as patients and as taxpayers.  While there is general consensus our coastal community mutually needs MCDH to be physically and economically healthy, the Board and Staff needs to actively listen to the people, not shut its citizens out.  They need to consider the entire needs of all the community, not just to a more privileged few.

There is now an opportunity to recruit new committee members who have a long history of working with all different socioeconomic segments of the community. I sincerely hope the publicly elected MCDH Board Members use this opportunity wisely as well as conduct business with optimal openness.

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