[Contra Costa County] LAFCO rejects Los Medanos health district’s request to stay in business 

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report on the future of the agency. This is the latest of many media articles referencing the grand jury report in following the resolution of this issue.

A Contra Costa County healthcare district that has long outlived the Pittsburg hospital it once operated — Los Medanos Community Hospital — will dissolve unless advocates submit enough verifiable signatures by Nov. 30 to put it to a popular vote or stop the process outright.

The embattled district has survived several attempts at dissolution since the hospital closed in 1994, but last week the Local Agency Formation Commission, an independent agency that oversees the expansion or dissolution of local governments, rejected its request to reconsider the ordered shutdown.  A protest hearing has been set for Nov. 30, when petitioners can present signatures and appeal.

If at least 10,500 signatures are certified, the issue will go to a public vote. If the district collects roughly double that many signatures, it can stop the dissolution proceedings.

Itika Greene, Los Medanos Community Hospital’s interim executive director, urged the commission at its Nov. 14 meeting to save the healthcare district, calling it a community asset.

“The county should be supporting the local community efforts, see it (district) as a strength and work collaboratively with that,” she said. “… Keeping the control local indicates that you respect the voice of the community, that you respect the efforts by people who live in the community and serve the community. Why not put it to a vote, let the community decide?”

District board member Patt Young called the dissolution and the transfer of the district to the county, which the commission approved in mid-September,  a “power grab.”

“If you truly respect the voices of the district’s residents, you will stop the dissolution,” she said.

Los Medanos Community Healthcare District, which has served Pittsburg, Bay Point and parts of Antioch, Concord, Clayton and Clyde since 1948, is the last survivor of three county health care districts. It operated the Pittsburg hospital from 1948 until 1994, when it declared bankruptcy and shuttered the facility. In 2000, a residents’ petition called for the district’s dissolution, saying it wasted taxpayers’ money, but LAFCO rejected it.

Seventeen years later, in the fall of 2017, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors applied to LAFCO to begin the dissolution process and transfer all of the district’s assets and debts to the county. 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.

Questions about what would happen to the county’s largest clinic, the Pittsburg Health Center, and myriad health and social programs operated by the district dominated the two-hour Nov. 14 LAFCO hearing, which saw more than a dozen speakers present their cases for and against dissolution. But because LAFCO already approved the dissolution on Sept. 12, the commission could only reconsider the matter based on new information that was previously unavailable.

Even so, Elizabeth Calciano of the Hensley Law group, special counsel for the district, urged LAFCO to reverse its decision, noting 11,000 signatures already had been collected in an effort to force a public vote on the dissolution.

“We ask you to slow it down and provide more time to really study this. What will be lost with this dissolution?”

Calciano also suggested there’s a conflict of interest because the district’s attorney went to work for LAFCO’s general counsel in September and did not resign from the district until October.

But Kara Ueda of BB&K, LAFCO’s general counsel, noted a firewall had been set up, the attorneys worked in different cities and the LAFCO voted for dissolution before the attorney went to work for the same firm the commission was using.

Others also urged LAFCO to allow voters to decide, noting they fear local health programs would be lost without the district.

Jeanette Ortiz of  Pittsburg said she goes to the Pittsburg Health Center on a regular basis, and fears what will happen if the county takes over.

“You want the building?” she asked. “Where is the healthcare going to go? We need a place to have our healthcare clinic. Stop this and let the community vote — give it back to the people because we are the ones supporting our communities — this is not a democracy —  this is more of a dictatorship.”

County Supervisor Federal Glover, however, assured her and others that the clinic was not going away.

“The grant program is part of the agreement of dissolution of the district,” he said. “…The services will still be provided — hopefully, a major enhancement of services will be provided.”

Supervisor Diane Burgis echoed that sentiment, noting that under the county, 85 percent of the grant funding will go toward nonprofit health programs and only 10 percent for administrative costs and 5 percent to reserves.

“We will be able to increase local funding to nonprofits by 70 percent,” she said.

As part of its Sept. 12 resolution dissolving the district, LAFCO expanded the number of local representatives from five to seven on a new citizens’ committee that would advise the county on the grants, and also stipulated that if the former Los Medanos Community Hospital hospital building were ever sold, proceeds would have to be used in the Pittsburg area for healthcare programs.

Earlier this year, a Contra Costa Grand Jury recommended that the beleaguered healthcare district be dissolved, noting it spends more on administrative costs than it allocates in grants, and no longer runs a hospital. The April 19 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.

Former district board member Allen Tatomer said the district has had an “ongoing pattern of controversy” and “protectionistic behavior that spanned the past 20 years.”

“The district has refused to consider dissolution as an option for their future and has dedicated vast sums of money to (fight) efforts to call for its dissolution,” said Tatomer, who served from 2000 to 2005.

“It’s really time to close these superfluous and redundant healthcare districts, which seems to be a trend in this state,” he said. “They are no longer serving to manage the hospitals that they were created to serve.”

Commissioner Don Blubaugh said he understood the passion residents have for the healthcare district, but added that he stood by the earlier decision to dissolve it.

“When the county application came in — the district does not have clean hands — we had to look at the district’s history, the grand jury report,” he said. “What really matters is people who are being served by health care and not the bureaucracies that provide that service.”

November 20, 2018

East Bay Times

By Judith Prieve