Hospital and petitioners still at odds

Linda Satchwell

In round three of the Plumas District Hospital board versus community residents, it seemed as though some progress was made, but that likely depends on one’s perspective.

Members of the public again attended in far larger numbers than the board has seen before. They again voiced anger and frustration over the Measure A hospital bond and building project.

Ron Bernstein announced, “You all know there’s been a petition drive to put a cap on the tax assessment. We’re in the vicinity of 400 signatures. I’d like to see the board pass a binding resolution tonight to cap the tax assessment at $50 per $100,000 of assessed value.”

He added, “It will save you $16,000,” referring to the cost of the election that the hospital district may have to assume.

Chairman Dr. Mark Satterfield said the board looked forward to talking with members of the public, both during the meeting and afterwards for as long as necessary.

As far as a binding resolution, however, he “didn’t see that on the horizon.”

Dennis Clemens was concerned about the reserve that was built into the recent tax assessment. Board member John Kimmel said it was a one-time reserve of $150,000, much lower than Clemens had understood it to be.

Bob Herr said it would be helpful to have a disclosure of how the $121 per $100,000 of assessed value was broken down. “There had to be a method to do that, and I think as taxpayers we should have that disclosure so we can see how that was done.”

Others voiced by now well-worn frustrations and concerns.

Chief Executive Officer Dick Hathaway gave the hospital expansion report, and he used the time to explain some of the new funding options the board was looking into, as well as to answer some of the public’s concerns.

Hathaway said hospital leaders completed a pre-application for a USDA Facilities Direct Loan, which is backed by tax revenues and hospital operations. They’re also taking a “second look” at Cal Mortgage and bond insurance applications.

Further, board members are continuing to look at Build America Bonds, which might give them a better bond rate.

In addition, they are always looking for grant money, though this still seems to be elusive when it comes to building projects.

In a marked departure from earlier statements, Hathaway said he’d talked with a board member who had “an interest in trying to meet the intent of the ballot measure” and wanted to know what could be built within that limit. In this regard, he mentioned “phasing the project.”

Board members Kimmel and Bill Elliott later expanded on Hathaway’s statement, suggesting that while it wasn’t the most cost-effective way to build, given present circumstances, it would be possible to build just the first floor or perhaps portions of each floor now, and leave the rest until a later date.

Satterfield rounded out the board member’s comments with what he called a “big picture perspective.” He said it is essential to determine what makes a small, rural hospital sustainable—as PDH has been for so many years. A certain population base is necessary, he said, along with a “facility that is modern enough to attract medical staff.”

He also noted the hospital’s relative isolation works in its favor, because people will choose to give birth here rather than travel to Reno.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Satterfield warned. “If we can’t show a future, where we can build a new facility, it’s hard to believe we can attract quality medical staff.”

“There’s a concept of critical mass,” and falling below that means losing the ability to perform surgeries or provide obstetric services; “you become less and less functional, you fly everything out, not providing much of a service to the community...”

In Satterfield’s vision, PDH will not only retain these services, but with the new facility it will also lure young, quality physicians and, eventually, it will get back some services that it has lost, including a full-time orthopedic surgeon.

Some community members seemed to soften their position as they heard of the board’s recent efforts. Others were convinced the $50 cap was the solution.

However, Kimmel and board member Valerie Flannigan said the cap would effectively stop the hospital project. “It takes it out of the board’s hands ... if it does pass. I don’t have to stay up until 3 in the morning worrying about all this stuff because the public has spoken, and that’s fine,” said Kimmel.

He is still convinced that building—perhaps starting with the first floor—is the way to go. He’s also willing, though, to stop the project if that is what the public wants.

At the end of the meeting, there was still a significant division between the pro-petition forces and the pro-building ones.

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