Kaweah Delta, Porterville Hospital Directors Face Election Challengers

In the wake of the defeat of Measure H—a bond issue that would have funded seismic safety updates at Tulare County’s largest medical facility—at least two incumbents on the Kaweah Delta Health Care District’s Board of Directors are facing a challenge at the polls.

Or, it might be three.

Measure H Failure

Up for reelection are current directors Herbert Hawkins, Dr. John Hipskind and Teresa Ramos, and their challengers want them gone.

The main issue for candidates Robert Gilson, who is seeking to unseat Hipskind in Zone 3, and Nevin House, who wants to replace Ramos in Zone 5, is the handling of the Measure H campaign and a failure to seek other ways to pay for state-mandated seismic upgrades that must be completed by 2030 to ensure Kaweah Delta Medical Center continues to operate.

“I feel that the board has gone in a few directions that haven’t best represented the community,” said Gilson, a Visalia police officer and farmer who also serves on the board of the single-school Liberty School District. “During the whole Measure H campaign they missed a lot of steps in being connected to the community, trying to push a tax bond through in Visalia, especially with a special election.”

His opponent actually agrees, but Hipskind thinks the current board members should get another chance to make it right.

“We did not do a good job at all,” he said. “We did not present our case well. We heard pretty loudly that what we had to offer was not in their best interest. We have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better plan.”

Another Contender?

Elbia Luz Fernandez, a licensed translator, is also seeking a seat in Zone 1, that currently held by Hawkins. Or at least she was, and she might be again.

Fernandez reportedly dropped out of the race some time in September or early October.

She also did not appear at a forum attended by the other five seeking positions.

Her name, however, will appear on the November 8 ballot no matter what her current intent.

“It’s absolutely too late. It is on the ballot,” said Ann Turner of the Tulare County Elections Office. “She could conceivably get votes, and if she were to get the majority of the votes she could refuse the seat, but there’s no way to take her off.”

Fernandez is now apparently back in the race; but, despite its best efforts, the Valley Voice was unable to contact her to confirm this.

She presents as a virtual unknown.

Admitting Error

While Hipskind says the Board knows it erred, it has a plan to move forward and find funding.

“Win or loss, what’s happened, which is really disappointing, is we made a mistake. Measure H is a mistake,” he said. “We thought we came up with the best solution. We’re going back to the drawing board. We’re going to get your input. We’re going to figure this out.”

Those who want to replace the current members think it’s too late for that. They also say there are other areas where the current Board is deficient.

“I feel like they’ve lost focus on the hospital itself, especially the emergency room,” said Gilson, who cited a study that ranked patient satisfaction at just 44.9%. “I don’t believe we have a lack in qualified physicians and nurses there. I think our focus and attention has been taken off the ER and providing what we need to accommodate the flow of people into that ER.”

He also said the District’s operation of clinics outside its normal coverage area is distracting from its primary mission.

Conflict of Interest

The specter of a conflict of interest has been raised in the Zone 3 race, primarily on social media and in letters appearing in the local press. Yet, there may be no substance to the insinuation.

“The issue was raised because I am a physician at the hospital,” said Hipskind. “It’s an issue I’ve been well aware of since I started (on the Board) eight years ago when I was director of the emergency room. To avoid any conflict, I resigned my position.”

The District’s lawyers look over all business that comes before the Board for consideration to avoid any possible conflict, and Hipskind said he removes himself from the decision-making process when those issues arise.

“It gets reviewed. If there’s an issue, I recuse myself,” he said. “That’s been the standard of behavior for every board member.”

Gilson says the relationship “seems improper,” but admits he does not know.

“I can’t say it’s in violation of any code or not,” he said. “The only one who can interpret that is a judge.”

Sierra View Election

A four-way race is also underway in Porterville for three seats on the Sierra View District Hospital Board of Directors.

Of the three incumbents, only Porterville physician Gaurang Pandya is seeking reelection to the Board. Not seeking a return are Richard Hatfield and Dr. Jasvir Sidhu.

Also seeking the three seats are attorney Vonn Christenson, health care financial manager Daniel Smith and Dr. Rakesh Jindal.

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