Mendocino Coast District Hospital Special Meeting September unrewarding
4 hours of PowerPoint slides doesn’t provide new insights!
Editorial by Marianne McGee, MA/ABS
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Any current Mendocino Coast Healthcare District (MCHD)/Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) Board of Directors member or committee volunteers sitting in the September 23 special meeting should have already known everything presented or do not deserve to represent us at the table.
In addition to the 75 pages of material, primarily PowerPoint slides, sent out several days earlier, this was basically the same information presented time and time again at the MCDH meetings. The rare exception is the critical information on the facilities by Steve Kobert, which cannot be stressed enough!
While I expected there to be a lively discussion among those assembled, there were actually very few comments and no interactive conversation. Primarily 2 volunteers and Board Member Campos had much to say, and they did point out the fact that decisions are generally made on an emotional basis, not by facts and figures designed to appeal to voter’s logic, which is what the four hours of often cited PowerPoint slides illustrated.
The overwhelming data presented does not really adequately address the voter’s demands for transparency. For example, while there is a new slide showing the Department Revenues by percentages, there is no correlating data on expenses or actual dollars, so it is meaningless. Hopefully they are learning their new financial software and will be able to share that information soon. When staff was asked about the some previous fiscal errors, CFO Sturgeon reacted defensively, which is a standard response that furthers the mistrust people have regarding MCDH financial issues. There must reliable and honest fiscal information regarding MCDH operations and contracts readily available for voters to positively proceed with new taxes.
In fact, when reading the slide about the community survey conducted in August 2016, to assess support for a new tax, CEO Edwards did not read the entire sentence “The cost of a measure is an issue for many voters, and there are some concerns about the hospital’s financial management. Pretending these substantial concerns do not exist, trying to put a positive spin with the financial improvements made does not equate to transparency and does not rebuild the trust so desperately needed by MCDH to pass any ballot measure.
The real irony is that so many of the old stories, mistakes and concerns actually fall at the feet of previous staff and administrations. So, by really listening and responding to people now, they could diffuse concerns by either explaining how those problems have been addressed and if they are current, who they can work with to alleviate the situation. Improved communication skills, combined with accurate and complete financial data and a commitment to shed light on Board Members financial conflicts of interests are elements needed to move new tax proposals forward.
It does appear the MCDH management has heard the message that if hospital staff does not support a new tax measure, the voters will not support it either, as happened the last time a new parcel tax was proposed. While CEO Edwards said 90% of MCDH staff recently raised their hands in support of a new tax measure, only the very brave would take a chance of saying no to the big boss under those conditions and given so many staff who are now gone.
The many excuses we hear about the expense and role of locums on MCDH expenses and quality of care have worn thin. The tired cry of expensive/lack of housing availability should be put away, just compare those costs with any other California community and local realtors with unreturned phone calls from the hospital. The expensive locum excuse is also tiresome, as it was revealed that until recently, hiring locums was cheaper than permanent staff, which is why many local medical professionals were let go and even travel out of the area to work elsewhere.
Asking the community to be more welcoming to new hospital employees was a bit naïve, as people think MCDH staff has better salaries and benefits than any other employer on the coast. And, the ongoing issue of MCHD/MCDH Board members directly benefiting from their hospital contracts while sitting on the Board of Directors, has been an ongoing issue with the community. Blame for a negative perception of MCDH was also tossed at the media and unspecified “email” campaigns by former Board Member and hospital contractor Dr. John Kermen.
It will be important to talk honesty about the consequences of a parcel tax failure or lack of new revenue sources, both on short term operations and long term facility replacement. This cannot just be the old threats of closing Obstetrics or bankruptcy again or the hammer falling on January 1, 2030, when “the State will no longer recognize Mendocino Coast District Hospital as a medical facility” if the aging building is not replaced and reopened. The one emotional argument committee volunteers seem to favor is using the threat “without a parcel tax the hospital will close and property values will plummet”. Voters do need factual information regarding the legalities and liabilities of both short term and long term funding issues, including the role of Cal-Mortgage, MCDH/MCHD Board of Directors responsibilities, tax payers obligations, potential legislative remedies, potential affiliations with other medical providers.
Ordinarily, I encourage people to watch the video although this time we are removing the 4 hour meeting from the Mendocino TV website, which is the only place MCDH meetings can be viewed. The quality of the audio, which was set up and monitored by MCDH staff at the Catholic Church, is so difficult to hear and understand, there is no point in watching. You can request the packet, which contains all the PowerPoint slides, is available from MCDH by contacting Gayl Moon.
It will be very difficult to pass a new tax measure in this current political climate and trying to undo years of poor management impacts in a couple of months is a Herculean task. It will be important to really communicate WITH people as they take this show on the road, with more time spent LISTENING, rather than bombarding voters with statistics and expensive marketing materials. The only way this can be accomplished is by rebuilding our trust by exhibiting transparency before taxation.