The campaigns surrounding Tulare Regional Medical Center’s Measure I show no sign of slowing down as the August mail-in election draws closer. Both sides of the campaign — Yes on Measure I, the group supporting the measure, and Citizens for Hospital Accountability, the group opposing it — have started campaigning and distributing lawn signs.
Both sides are also hitting the ground and the internet: Yes on Measure I recently opened a Tulare office at 205 North K. Street in Tulare, and both campaigns have advertised on Facebook, seeking to sway public opinion.
Organizing via social media site should prove fruitful for both camps: much of the discussion and organization against Visalia’s Measure H, floated to support Kaweah Delta Hospital, was done through a major Visalia Facebook group and a local No on H Facebook page.
The political machinations have created discussions of the hospital’s future, of the performance of the current Tulare Local Healthcare District (TLHCD) Board of Directors, and of the past $85m bond measure.
Debate Over Hospital’s Future and Stewardship
HealthCare Conglomerate Associates, the company that the TLHCD Board has contracted the hospital’s operations to, the Yes on I camp, and board members both draw a clear link between Measure I and the future of the hospital.
“If Measure I fails, the [tower] project will die and the hospital will be forced to close,” the Yes on I campaign stated in a recent Facebook post.
“This is for the entire population.. particularly on the west side, the poor people of our town, whose only hospital… There is no jet waiting for them, there’s no SUV with a driver taking them to another hospital, they have to come to our hospital,” TLHCD Board member Dr. Parmod Kumar said. “So for them, we need to keep the hospital there.”
Critics of the hospital and its board point to the recent Measure H failure as an example of a bond that failed without the hospital closing.
“Don’t be fooled by the Board and management who threaten us with scare tactics by saying the hospital will close—that’s ludicrous,” the Citizens for Hospital Accountability group states. “The Board and HCCA claim they are doing well, turning a profit and have money in the bank. So why are they not sharing the cost and burden for construction?”
Citizens for Hospital Accountability also takes issue with the hospital’s governance, citing the contracts the board entered into with HCCA as proof the TLHCD board has lost control and oversight of the hospital. Seeking to influence the future of the hospital past the Measure I election, the group has raised the possibility of backing candidates to replace Chairwoman Sherrie Bell and Laura Gadke, two members up for election.
Debate on Oversight
Dr. Benny Benzeevi, CEO of HCCA, proposed a multifaceted “bond oversight community” program for the upcoming bond so taxpayers can directly ensure compliance and completion of the tower project.
The Board of Directors endorsed the idea, originally eschewing the idea of a formal committee, before recently approving the addition of a traditional bond oversight committee.
The bond oversight community plan, as described by Benzeevi, would create public-facing websites for construction plans, work schedules, and money draw schedules. It would also appoint outside monitors to ensure that work is done efficiently, on-budget and on-schedule.
The Measure I resolution text, as signed and filed by the Board of Directors, does not legally bind HCCA or TLHCD to any oversight other than a yearly report, to be filed by hospital officials no later than five months after the end of each fiscal year.
“Has there been a cost analysis on the expenses of [Dr. Benzeevi’s proposed oversight] plan? A public website, a construction website, a financial oversight group who will be experts,” Michele Moore asked at the June 22 board meeting, “to look at monies only, and a leadership committee that would meet monthly. With all of this, where does the board’s duties fall?”
The bond oversight community idea would make the project more transparent than any other “in the history of Tulare County,” the Yes on I campaign states.
The recent “Tower of Shame” grand jury report found that the board was not fully cooperative with the last Bond Oversight Committee, which the current board denies, stating that it has been fully cooperative; board member Linda Wilbourn, who previously served on the oversight committee, had said that the bond oversight community plan was a “better way of doing it,” and would place an oversight responsibility with the whole community.
The grand jury also recommended disbanding the current Bond Oversight Committee, created to oversee the fully-expended $85m bond; in the board’s response, dated May 26, the board said it would vote to disband the committee in its next scheduled meeting. The item did not make the June 22 agenda.
Acts and Attitudes
Amidst the vigorous debate from both sides, the Yes on I office found itself in the spotlight shortly after its opening for a slightly less political reason: its office was vandalized over the 4th of July weekend.
Stuart Pfeifer, a contracted spokesman for both the Yes on I campaign and HCCA, told the Visalia Times-Delta that he believes the vandalism was a targeted act.
Both sides have also said they’ve had yard signs stolen: one person even posted security camera photos of the suspected thief from their security system in the Citizens for Hospital Accountability Facebook group.
At the last regular TLHCD meeting, both sides spoke about what they perceived as negativity during the campaign process.
“If someone makes a comment and then has to leave the area, I don’t think that you should talk badly about them, as you did at the last board meeting,” Moore said. “That just didn’t sit well with me.”
Dr. Kumar and Dr. Benzeevi both took time to respond to what they felt was negativity from those opposing Measure I.
“The majority, by far, the overwhelming majority of our citizens that live within the district, and even others, really understand and appreciate what is going on here,” Benzeevi said later in the meeting. “They don’t buy into the negativity of a handful of a few that have hate in their heart.”
Dr. Parmod Kumar spoke about the last conversation he had with Mark Watte, a recently deceased former Tulare City Councilmember, after Dr. Benzeevi presented a video Watte had participated in supporting HCCA and TRMC.
“Mark, these people come to the board meeting, they have such venom — they just viscerally tear us apart. I’m tired of it,” Kumar said, relating his conversation with Watte to the board and audience. “The board has worked hard. They talk about all the negativity in spite of this cinderella story, which they refuse to accept.”
“What is your advice? I’m getting discouraged. [These were his] last words [to me]: he said, Parmod, these naysayers are going to be naysayers,” Kumar said. “They are not going to come around. Stop pleasing them, ignore them when they speak, give them their time because this is a public meeting…but tell the employees of the hospital, and your Board, and Dr. Benzeevi, and the administration that Measure I will pass. It is important, we just have to go forward.”
“No matter how many presentations you do, how much data you present, they are not going to change their minds because they have hatred in their bones,” Kumar recounted Watte as saying.
The Yes on Measure I office is open from noon to 8pm during weekdays, and Saturday from 10am to 4pm.
Supporters seeking to volunteer or pick up yard signs are encouraged to make an in-person visit.
Citizens for Hospital Accountability is available online at www.hospitalaccountability.com and on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/jzdk6ng. Supporters seeking yard signs are encouraged to contact the campaign via Facebook.
To read the text of the bond measure, listen to past board meetings, and learn more about the issues surrounding the Measure I bond measure, visit the Valley Voice’s dedicated documents page.