VENTURA COUNTY: Tobacco Settlement Initiative Stirs More Controversy
Only three of the seven general hospitals in Ventura County would receive funds from the tobacco settlement under the initiative offered by Community Memorial Hospital, the Los Angeles Times reports. Under that plan, most of the money would be allocated to private hospitals. According to an analysis by county Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand, only CMH, Los Robles Regional Medical Center and Simi Valley Hospital would divide the annual $6 million allotment, while the remaining $3 million would provide funding for immunizations and at-home nursing care programs (Talev/Piccalo, 3/30). Durand based his analysis on two 1998 reports filed with the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (Koehler, Ventura County Star, 3/30). However, CMH officials disputed the figures, arguing that they were "based on erroneous information." According to its own analysis, CMH said that only one of the seven hospitals, Ojai Valley Community Hospital, would not receive any of the tobacco funds since it treats few indigent patients. The plan would also exclude Ventura County Medical Center, but CMH officials argue that the public hospital receives $40 million in tax money annually to treat indigent patients. CMH spokesperson Mark Barnhill said, "I'm not sure what [the county has] done with the formula, or where they're getting their numbers, but they're off." He added that CMH received input from all other area hospitals when determining the formula. "The purpose of the formula was to get to as true a number as we could to determine how much is spent to treat the indigent, the working poor."
Same Old Scare Tactics?
The controversy surrounding the allocation of the tobacco fund grew even more contentious yesterday, after CMH sent a letter to the county Board of Supervisors warning them of potential legal action if they "continue to campaign against" the initiative. Signed by CMH legal counsel James Parrinello, the letter criticized the board for convening a closed door session to discuss possible legal action to block the initiative. Warning that it is illegal for the board to spend public money to oppose a ballot initiative, the letter stated that the board's actions "give [CMH] great concern that the board has acted, and is contemplating acting in the future, beyond its legal powers." In response, county officials blasted CMH, accusing the hospital of using "scare tactics" similar to those used in 1996 to block construction of a new medical wing at a rival hospital. Supervisor John Flynn said, "We will not have CMH put the fear into us like they did last time," adding, "We have a responsibility to protect the public interest, and that's what we'll do" (Los Angeles Times, 3/30).