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Palm Drive Health Care District Meeting for Detachment Decision in Limbo


Palm Drive Health Care District Meeting for Detachment Decision in Limbo

By Vesta Copestakes

Another public meeting without resolution on whether Russian River Corridor Communities can detach from the Palm Drive Health Care District (PDHCD) and stop paying a parcel tax to support a hospital people say they no longer need. Back when the parcel tax was approved by voters, Palm Drive was the closest hospital to all West County Communities. Since then Sutter has moved to Larkfield which makes it a straight shot east on River Road from communities as far away as Jenner. Kaiser is less than a mile south, so there are now two large hospitals that serve the Russian River corridor. An estimated 45% of Russian River residents are members of Kaiser so would not use Palm Drive unless an ambulance took them there.

It’s not as though the tax comes off property tax bills. It has to remain on bills until the debt from the last bankruptcy is paid off. What people object to is investing more money in a hospital that cannot afford to operate without donated funds. Current taxes fall short of projected revenue needed to sustain the hospital – rumored to be more than one million dollars a year short. The chances of this hospital failing again is high, so people want to cut their losses, pay for existing debt, but incur no additional debt responsibilities.

People in support of Palm Drive, now opening as Sonoma West Medical Center supported by private donations, brought up concerns of over-crowding at Sutter and Memorial Hospital emergency rooms without Palm Drive to serve West County. They feel just as strongly that West County needs its own hospital as the Detachment contingency feels that the hospital is no longer needed. For many it’s a matter of proximity as Sebastopol serves it’s own population as well as towns west such as Occidental, Freestone, Bodega And Bodega Bay.

At the meeting in Monte Rio a few weeks ago, the PDHCD board said they would do a financial assessment of costs with and without the parcel tax so they could make an educated decision on whether they can afford to run the hospital without Russian River Communities parcel tax revenue. They did not have an accurate financial report ready for this May 11 meeting, in fact – there were three different criteria on determining how many parcels were taxed and how much money that would equal. Without an accurate accounting of how much money the district would lose, they could not make an educated decision on approving detachment.

Two of the board members, Jim Maresca and Sandra Bodley, proposed that the board hold off on their decision until after they have an accurate financial report upon which to base their decisions. They could not get support for this proposal from the rest of the board, so on a three to two vote, the board would not support detachment. From here the board members who want a financial analysis will seek that report and the public will work on accomplishing detachment through other means, specifically a special election.

Stay tuned as this story continues. In the mean time the Sonoma West Medical Center is scheduled to open mid-May with an Emergency Room and full hospital services. Time will tell how well it serves the communities who say they won't use it.

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Palm Drive reborn without facts

The meeting tonight left more questions than answers. The facts were slim or so vague, anyone witnessing it would do a double take and wonder who's on first. What I came away with is that the majority of the board haven't spent much time west of Sebastopol and have rarely looked or reviewed a balance sheet.

One board member stated that 30% of EMS services came from the river area when Palm Drive was open. Did that include any life threatening calls where an ambulance had to go through downtown Sebastopol? Any stroke, heart attack or vehicle accident victim from the river area would probably be at Sutter or Kaiser before they got to Safeway in Sebastopol.

Then there's the financial issue of the new hospital. If the numbers were so good and they'd break even, then why are they so afraid of detachment?
It's pretty apparent they want our continued unquestioned tax dollars to keep their local hospital afloat. Not that I'm against local health care, I'm just against paying for something my community rarely uses and has no choice in paying for it.

Greg Kestel

Dear Friends,

A big thank you to all who turned out for the meeting in Sebastopol tonight and got the word out.  I only wish that the Board would have been prepared as well as the rest of us.  All speakers did a great job.

I stayed to the bitter end and asked that when the Board re-visits the detachment issue, they do so once again at the Monte Rio Community Center.  I explained that we probably had 70 to 80 people who took time out of their evening to drive into Sebastopol – only to be met with an inadequate staff report (rather than the financial analysis that had been promised at the March 19th meeting) … the least the Board could do was come and meeting within the communities that is actually affected by their decision. 

If you would like to donate toward expenses for the detachment process, feel free to send your donation, large or small, payable to RRCD (Russian River Corridor for Detachment), c/o P. O. Box 1580, Forestville, CA 95436. 

Again, thank you for your support.

Barbara DeCarly