VENTURA COUNTY: Community Memorial Hospital Wants County Tobacco Settlement
Community Memorial Hospital filed papers Thursday in an attempt to secure a November ballot initiative that would take tobacco settlement money away from the county and distribute it to private health care providers, the Ventura County Star reports. Michael Bakst, CMH's hospital administrator, said, "Our fear is that supervisors in Ventura County, wrestling with financial woes and significant government fines, will direct tobacco settlement money away from where it's needed most -- the health care system in Ventura County." Bakst maintained that the county already receives $14 million annually in state and federal funding to care for the indigent and uninsured and "shouldn't be getting all of the settlement money on top of that." He added, "The county gets all this money for [charity] care but doesn't share it with other hospitals." CMH's initiative would guarantee that the settlement money would be spent only on specific health care needs countywide, including childhood immunizations, home care for the elderly, hospitalization for the poor and uninsured and nursing scholarships. Under the tobacco settlement, the county will receive $10 million annually for the next 25 years and, according to Bakst, it has already spent $6 million of this year's allotment to "shore up the budget" and has approved a $3.1 million allocation to pay part of a federal lawsuit settlement over a "decade of Medicare misbillings."
Already Promised to Health Care?
CMH's proposal has drawn the ire of Ventura County supervisors, who said they have "already promised to use the tobacco funds only on health care services." Supervisor Frank Schillo called Bakst "an evil man," saying, "It's the same old thing -- he doesn't want the county hospital here at all and he'll do anything to shut it down. There's no cooperation in his heart, it's just a black heart." Although the supervisors have not decided where the money will go, Schillo had proposed spending $4 million to build housing for the mentally ill, but his idea was nixed by the board. Supervisor Judy Mikels said she "doubts the initiative proposed by [CMH] is legal," adding that it is "just a greedy move, particularly when they want the county hospital to go out of business. This is just an absolute vicious grab at money they see sitting there." Supervisor Kathy Long also said the initiative would not succeed partly because the hospital was not named as party to the settlement. To get on the ballot, the initiative needs 20,000 signatures (Koehler, 3/24).