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OP-ED: The mission of health care districts
April 03, 2012, 05:00 AM By Jack Hickey

Jack Hickey

Sequoia Healthcare District President Kim Griffin, disagrees with Daily Journal columnist Sue Lempert’s March 26 assertion that the Peninsula Health Care and Sequoia Healthcare districts “have long since outlived their mission.” As a director on the Sequoia Healthcare District Board, I agree with Lempert. My first election to the board in 2002 came after two civil grand juries essentially came to the same conclusion regarding the Sequoia Healthcare District. My purpose, absent a voter approval process validating the district’s assumed pseudo-philanthropic role, is to seek dissolution of the district. Lempert also suggested “Any significant change would have to come from the state Legislature.” Perhaps Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who, as county supervisor serving on the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), questioned the “morphing” of Sequoia Hospital District into a health care district, can sponsor legislation forcing districts to seek voter approval. According to Lempert, there are “30 such districts in the state that no longer run hospitals.”

The Legislature provided for such a process for establishing health care districts. To simplify the enactment of the process they borrowed “boilerplate” from the original hospital district law. Ms. Griffin would have you believe that the legislation “changed the designation of hospital districts to ‘health care districts,’” with expanded powers. Reasonable minds have disagreed.

There is much factual information in Griffin’s essay:

Medical technology has produced incredible machines for diagnosing and treating human ailments. And, they are costly. I would add: “yet cost-effective when prudently utilized.” And, “the hospital districts — with the overwhelming support of local voters — turned over their hospital operations to multi-hospital nonprofits, in Sequoia’s case Dignity Health” formerly Catholic Healthcare West. They now not only “operate” Sequoia Hospital, they “own” it.

“The district board provides $2 million a year to the operation of the county’s North Fair Oaks medical clinic. We give $1.35 million a year to the county’s Healthy Kids program.” The latter should read “Children’s Health Initiative which subsidizes health insurance for families with income 400 percent of the poverty level.” The district has a “*partnership with the county’s Health Services Agency through which we will pay $4.3 million toward the cost of a new, consolidated public health clinic in south county.”

“Sequoia provides more than $600,000 annually to Samaritan House ... and $250,000 annually to Ravenswood Family Health Center.”

“The district also provides 10,000 meals ($100,000) a year to ... St. Anthony’s Padua Dining Room.” (Which, heretofore was sustained by “willing givers”).

Ms. Griffin goes on to say: “The list is much longer, but in the interest of brevity I would direct anyone interested to our website at www.sequoiahealthcaredistrict.com where everything we do, every program we fund, every nickel we spend is described and accounted for.” Oh, if only that were true. One only need search the Daily Journal archives, and local blogs, for a more accurate picture. They do, however, provide directors with a monthly spreadsheet containing a check register and cash disbursement journal. Why don’t you put those up on the website?

Do visit the website, you’ll find it very entertaining if you like “photo-ops,” movie clips and anecdotal stories. It’s maintained by MTK (Don Shoecraft) the district’s public relations professional who only added $500/month to his $4,200/month fee to provide that service. Recently, the district shelled out $15,000 for consulting services for grant administration. Add directors’ health insurance, election fees, membership in RWC 2020, Association of California Healthcare Districts (with board member junkets to Tahoe), Chamber of Commerce, etc., junkets to Monterey, liberal vacation benefits and 401(k) matching funds, lawyers fees, paid advertisements, gardening and plant management, cellphones, credit cards, etc. and you can see where your tax dollars are going.

And now, the Sequoia Healthcare District proposes an additional $600,000 P.E. subsidy for the Redwood City Elementary School District. That district, in the midst of a parcel tax election to backfill shortages in state funding and self-inflicted deficits, may be the beneficiary of more property tax dollars from the health care district. The item is on the agenda for the board’s April meeting. http://www.sequoiahealthcaredistrict.com/. It would appear that RCSD’s $25,000 annual investment in RWC 2020 is paying off.

Who is RWC 2020? RWC 2020 is comprised of seven core partners, each shelling out $25,000/year for membership. They are: Redwood City Elementary School District; the city of Redwood City; the County of San Mateo-Human Services Agency and Health System; Sequoia Union High School District; John W. Gardner Center For Youth and Their Communities, Stanford University; Sequoia Healthcare District; and Kaiser Permanente.

It appears the Sequoia Healthcare District is the “cash cow” for this endeavor. After the sale of Sequoia Hospital, they became a target for local government predators. Two civil grand juries suggested the district lacked voter approval to spend property taxes collected, for a hospital they no longer owned, for “philanthropic” activities.

The unanswered question, “Would dissolution of the district result in more tax dollars reaching these agencies” may be resolved in the November election for two seats on the Sequoia Healthcare District Board of Directors.

Jack Hickey is a member of the Sequoia Healthcare District Board of Directors.

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