Local political issues such as Cemex, which potentially impacts our valley with contaminating pollutants from cement mining, continue to elude a concrete solution. Downstream sodium chloride runoff has been on the table for a decade, but now a resolution of this problem is finally back in the saltshaker.
With the upcoming City Council election in April, one critical yet continual issue which has remained a quiet murmur of candidate discussion is SCV healthcare.
Most jurisdiction and law remain at the federal and state level, including Medicare, Medicaid and MediCal. But in our valley, unbeknownst to many of you, the City Council votes on many issues affecting everyone’s physical and mental well-being.
As a geriatric physician, I would like to focus on SCV healthcare issues related to our elder seniors, and how these candidates must openly address the political plight of this vulnerable group in our community.
Quality of life for seniors is measured by their comfort zone in living and enjoying retirement, health and family. Understandably, the aging process afflicts many requiring certain needs to be available:
* adequate 911 response;
* access to physical and mental health services;
* living in a safe environment;
* readily accessible transportation;
* not to be economically threatened by homelessness;
* protection from scammers and con artists;
* medication affordability;
* care during a disaster.
Not everyone in the Santa Clarita Valley is part of the city, but decisions made by City Council ultimately affect all of us. Historic controversies surrounding healthcare coming from City Hall abound:
* Henry Mayo Hospital Master Plan;
* closure of the Transitional Care Unit (TCU);
* SCV Senior Center;
* senior housing;
* disaster management.
Not unlike many polling districts in our country, the voter-turnout record of Santa Claritans is abysmal, less than 20 percent. So I don’t expect most readers to have an awareness of local political history. But as a physician, the importance of patient history allows better understanding and treatment. Therefore, if you’ve read this far, bear with me as I briefly bring some of you into the fold, realizing even in our small community, big-time politics and money interests play an influential role.
Looking individually at these controversies was one approved in November 2008 which gave rise to the city’s greatest public showdown in decades: the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Master Plan. Being actively involved in this issue and understanding the needs of both sides, I became disillusioned at how this “David vs. Goliath” fight (community vs. hospital) was fought.
Not one person I knew in this valley or on the physician medical staff opposed the expansion of the hospital. But how Henry Mayo manipulated the City Council, the media and the public, using personal attacks, twisting of information and use of paid hospital personnel (including doctors), was unnecessary and shameful. It was the “my way or the highway” bullying attitude where many community voices questioned the details of their plan, but were summarily dismissed. Yet the public was still in the fight, until special money interest took over.
At that time, one City Council seat was occupied by an appointee who would not run for the position in the April 2008 election. Raising campaign funds for a City Council seat hovers in the $25,000 range, yet a favored hospital candidate emerged when G&L Realty of Beverly Hills donated $30,000, quadrupling contributions to that war chest.
More distant Santa Clarita Valley history documents 30 acres of land donated to the community to establish Henry Mayo in the early 1970s by The Newhall Land and Farming Co. A legal stipulation allowed that land to become hospital property after 25 years – around the year 2000. Since then, some of this land has been sold, I’m sure to balance the budget especially after the hospital declared bankruptcy in 2001.
One would expect bidding for hospital land to be competitive, as well as the medical office buildings, yet presently only one entity owns the nine acres and buildings that have been sold: G&L Realty.
Hence, once the City Council seat was occupied in 2008 by the G&L Realty-supported candidate, that vote approved the hospital Master Plan. At this point, one of their lobbyists commented, “it’s over and done with,” but recently, hospital officials curiously returned to the City Council for revisions of the hospital parcel map.
Next to the multi-level parking structure on McBean Parkway, one sees construction of a three-story office building. This will house the hospital administration, which will lease the space from the new building owner – again, G&L Realty.
Subdividing the hospital parcel map, with approval from the City Council in August 2011, allows further sale of land under the new office building, as well as the parking structure. I wonder who they will eventually be sold to?
I have no problem with the hospital selling land to improve our local healthcare facility, but I do notice administrative salaries, payments to selected physicians and medical groups, and legal fees drastically augmented. Lining the pockets of chosen individuals, including board members, is not where moneys from land donated to the community should go.
Another controversial issue was closure of the hospital’s Transitional Care Unit, which brought out hundreds of elder seniors to picket in front of the hospital.
The TCU had been used as a stepping-stone for our patients, allowing recuperation before going home. Instead, without this safety net, Santa Clarita residents are forced into nursing homes outside of our valley. G&L Realty was required to contribute $250,000 for a new community TCU, but a City Council-formed “search committee” hasn’t met in years. That hospital lobbyist’s comment – “It’s over and done with” – now rings true.
The SCV Senior Center received more than $600,000 from the city last year, and this did not include an infusion for home-delivered meals when funding got too low. The city of Santa Clarita should investigate the possibility of taking over the reins of running the Senior Center, as it is critical to maintain this local resource.
Senior housing and transportation are always difficult financial subjects, as they are predicated on federal, state and county support. The city plan, allowing all elder seniors free bus transportation, is just a start.
Finally, regional accountability in case of a natural or manmade disaster, or a national security emergency, must include specific contingency plans for our elder seniors. Of the present population in the Santa Clarita Valley, they will be the most vulnerable.
Therefore, with the upcoming City Council election in April, the public should demand that these candidates:
* understand the importance of healthcare, especially for our elder senior population;
* recognize the role city government plays in healthcare with their vote on City Council;
* formulate senior-specific ideas and solutions, bringing them forth during the election process;
* stop ignoring the plight elder seniors face medically, emotionally and financially;
* promise to allocate funds for their effort.
Questions each candidate must answer:
* Are you receiving any campaign money from G&L Realty?
* How can the city ease the transition of discharged hospital seniors to their home?
* Can the city improve the present SCV nursing home situation?
* Do we need a new Senior Center, and should it be run by the city?
* In a disaster, what role should the city play in assuring elder seniors are safe?
My best personal suggestion: Develop a city Department of Senior Affairs to coordinate quality-of-life issues and bring all resources under one roof. The city mantra of “One Valley, One Vision” should be echoed for our seniors and caregivers as “One Office, One Phone Call.”
The public must make SCV healthcare an issue in the upcoming election. There are many local political issues that still have no concrete solution, are off the table, and are only a quiet murmur. But asking questions and demanding answers will make that murmur grow to a heartbeat with a pulse, bringing to life a voice that ultimately will protect the most vulnerable citizens in our valley.
They are not “over and done with.”
Dr. Gene Dorio is a housecall geriatric physician on staff at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and has been engaged as an advocate in many community activities. The views expressed in this column as his alone.