Contra Costa Times Series Examines County Health Care Districts
The Contra Costa Times this week examined the current role of three hospital districts created to run Contra Costa County hospitals in the 1950s and some critics' calls to dissolve one or more of them. The Contra Costa County Local Agency Formation Commission next year "could have the defining decision" in the future of the county's three hospital districts as part of a review required for the first time under a new state law, according to the Times. Although none of the three districts controls a hospital's operations and one district went bankrupt, the districts together collect about $4 million annually in property taxes, and most of the district members continue to receive fully-funded health benefits. The 15 elected directors of the three districts -- Mt. Diablo Health Care District, Los Medanos Community Healthcare District and West Contra Costa Healthcare District -- say that they adapt and determine methods "to help the community without providing hospital services," but critics say that they "see far more reasons to shut down the districts than keep them," according to the Times (Krupnick, Contra Costa Times, 10/27).
The Mt. Diablo district, which costs taxpayers about $182,000 each year, "cannot afford community service and has virtually no power" but continues to pay about $100,000 in salaries and health benefits to health district board members, the Contra Costa Times reports. Board members say that the district's purpose has changed from running the Mt. Diablo Medical Center, of which the district lost control after the John Muir Medical Center took it over in 1997, to "[w]atching for injustice" committed by the health system, according to the Times. The Mt. Diablo district sued the health system in 2001 after administrators announced plans to close Mt. Diablo's maternity center, but the district lost the case and had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. In addition, critics say that the health district's 1978 decision to forego additional county funds has restricted its ability to fund community health programs and that the board is inaccessible (Krupnick, Contra Costa Times, 10/27).
The Los Medanos district has been "battered by bankruptcy and clouted by complaints" over the past decade and now is confronting "another hit in the face," the Contra Costa Times reports. Grand juries have recommended that the district be dissolved three times since 1998 -- including this year -- and the district has "seriously considered" pursuing dissolution itself, according to the Times. The district will have to further examine its role next year when a 1977 construction bond is paid off. Board member Darnell Turner said, "I think once the bond is paid off, we really need to sit down and ask what we really want to do as a district. If we don't have a clear role, then I don't see why we should exist as a district" (Krupnick, Contra Costa Times, 10/28).
The West Contra Costa district "lives on the brink" as it waits to see if Tenet Healthcare, to which the district rented Doctors Medical Center of San Pablo in 1997 because of financial problems, will end its lease before the 2027 expiration date, the Contra Costa Times reports. If Tenet ends the lease -- which company officials say it will not do -- the district is considering leasing the hospital to other companies or proposing a bond or tax measure because it is unclear how much money the district would have to raise annually to keep the hospital open. Board members say that they hope to avert the possible closure of the hospital by planning ahead. "We are the only agency that is committed to keeping the hospital open," Jim Beaver, executive director of the health district, said, adding, "We will do whatever necessary to keep that hospital open and running." However, critics of the health district say that it has "outlived [its] usefulness," the Times reports (Krupnick, Contra Costa Times, 10/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.