Telephone polling results show largely positive public opinion for Adventist Health’s management and potential lease of Tulare Regional Medical Center, according to a presentation given to Tulare Local Healthcare District board members on Monday night, August 6.
At the same meeting, the board voted to finalize the ballot question that voters will need to approve in order for Adventist to lease the hospital; they will meet Thursday, August 16, to file an argument in favor of the measure with the Tulare County Elections Office.
The board also was slated to discuss — in closed session — an adversary proceeding against Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA), the district’s former management partner. Legal filings from both sides show that the district could be close to settling with the company.
Christine Pickering, Adventist’s Regional Director of Communications for the Central California region, spoke to the board regarding the results of a telephone survey conducted between July 23 and August 1.
The surveyors conducted a total of 350 interviews, with a stated margin of error of 5.24 percentage points.
Before being presented with any positive messaging, 77% of those surveyed said they would vote in support of the Adventist measure, with an additional 5% saying they’d lean towards it. Thirteen percent said they’d vote against it, with 1% saying they’d lean towards voting against it.
Support jumped to 88% in favor and 1% leaning towards the measure once respondents were presented with positive messaging, the survey results show.
Those messages included statements such as “In emergencies, every second counts. Without this measure, we will be left without an emergency room in our community. More lives will be lost that might otherwise have been saved if an emergency room was available locally,” which 69% of respondents said was “Very Convincing,” and 19% said was “Somewhat Convincing,” coming up as the highest rated support message.
The large positive response came as a pleasant surprise.
Shane Smith, an attorney with the McCormick Barstow law firm advising the board on the ballot measure, said that his “socks were knocked off” when he saw the results.
“I can tell you the rule of thumb when you’re on the ‘Yes’ side of a ballot measure, you’re hoping that your first poll shows you something like 58-60 percent,” Smith said.
“The support in that’s in the community for this measure already is overwhelming,” he added.
According to the survey results, the voters contacted also had a positive opinion of Adventist Health, which operates hospitals across California and in parts of Hawaii and Oregon.
A majority of voters “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with statements including:
- “Given all the changes in the marketplace, our local hospital is unlikely to survive without a larger healthcare organization such as Adventist Health,” which respondents 61% strongly and 25% somewhat agreed with,
- “This deal with Adventist Health is the best way for us to get our local hospital, Tulare Regional Medical Center, to re-open and stay open,” which 57% and 28% strongly and somewhat agreed with, respectively,
- “A partnership with Adventist Health will lead to higher quality healthcare in our area,” which 51% and 32% strongly and somewhat agreed with, respectively.
“It was very rewarding, I think, to recognize along with the excellent press coverage that the public’s well aware of what we’re doing, and expressing a lot of support for the plan to reopen our hospital with Adventist Health,” Kevin Northcraft, the district board’s president, said. “That was very exciting — it doesn’t mean we can relax, we need to keep working, but it’s a very positive initial indication of the public’s support for our efforts.”
The final ballot question, which will head to the voters, will read:
“To assure ongoing emergency medical services, acute care hospital services, and other healthcare services, as well as substantial investments by Adventist Health to meet the needs of Tulare-area residents, shall the Tulare Local Healthcare District enter into a lease of its hospital for up to 30 years at fair market value to Adventist Health, at no additional cost to taxpayers?”
The board confirmed the measure after some discussion, taking out a nonessential section of the question that originally mentioned the sale of the hospital’s furniture and fixtures — to avoid voters confusing the sale of the furniture with the sale of the hospital — and adding “no additional cost” to make clear that any tax obligations would remain.
The board has 10 days from the submission of the measure to submit an argument in favor to the Tulare County Elections Office, which it plans to discuss and finalize at the special August 16 meeting at 6:30pm.
Any members of the community interested in submitting a rebuttal argument would be required to do so within 20 days of the question’s submission, and Tulare County Counsel would need to file an impartial analysis of the measure within 30 days of its submission, according to Smith’s presentation.
A Chapter 9 status report filed by the district, and a status report in the Tulare Local Healthcare District v HCCA adversary proceeding filed by HCCA, appears to show that the district is close to settling with the company.
“Time was spent engaged in settlement discussion with HCCA,” the district’s filing reads. “A tentative settlement was reached on August 1, 2018.”
In a section titled “next phase,” the district’s bankruptcy attorney, Riley Walter, writes that the district plans to file “one or more legal malpractice lawsuits” and “anticipates settling all the litigation involving HCCA.”
HCCA’s filing states that the August 1 settlement was “subject to the execution of a formal settlement and final approval by the [Tulare Local Healthcare District] Board.”
Todd Wynkoop, an attorney for the district with McCormick Barstow, declined to comment on the filings.
“At this time it is not appropriate for the District or its counsel to comment on the existence or not of any settlement with HCCA,” he wrote. “If a settlement agreement is considered by the District at any time in the future, it will be properly noticed in accordance with the Brown Act.”