County Pulse

Ken Carlson: Health care district in western Stanislaus County is in pain

kcarlson@modbee.comMay 9, 2014 

In western Stanislaus County, a small health care district is reeling from a financial crisis, and some top county government officials are paying attention.

The West Side Community Healthcare District says it’s running a $300,000 annual deficit and is burning through reserves to support its ambulance crews that serve Newman and Gustine, just across the border in Merced County. The West Side district, which once operated a hospital, collects taxes to help pay for the West Side Community Ambulance, its remaining service.

County Supervisor Jim DeMartini attended a district board meeting this week and is concerned the agency is able to collect only one-fourth of ambulance billings. District officials have estimated they will run out reserves within two years unless something changes.

DeMartini said that among the possible solutions that should be explored is merging West Side with the Del Puerto Health Care District based in Patterson. The county’s Local Agency Formation Commission has begun a review of the West Side district, which is done every five years, and has the authority to do a special study on the situation.

LAFCO is in charge of setting boundaries for cities and special districts and concerns itself with adequate provision of services by public agencies.

“I think LAFCO should take a look at it,” DeMartini said. “We don’t want an ambulance company to go out of business. They are a small district, and if you combine the two areas into one district, it would cost less to have one administration.”

The county’s three health care districts – West Side, Del Puerto and Oak Valley Hospital District in Oakdale – are due for what LAFCO calls service-area reviews. Required by law every five years, the review considers whether a district has the financial ability to provide services and is meeting community service needs.

Marjorie Blom, executive officer for LAFCO, said the review could lead to a special study of West Side Healthcare District that would look further into operational issues and make recommendations. State law does not require local districts to follow the recommendations, but Local Agency Formation Commissions are authorized to perform the studies.

Blom said she needs to talk with LAFCO commissioners about whether money is available for a study focused on West Side Healthcare District. Not long ago, a Bay Area LAFCO scrutinized a health care district in Contra Costa County that had no hospital and not much justification for the taxes it collected. The city of Concord took over the district’s remaining services.

LAFCO is not the only government agency that could get involved with the crisis at West Side. Ambulance companies answer to the Mountain-Valley Regional Emergency Medical Services Agency, which regulates ambulance service in a five-county region including Stanislaus.

Health care services are a significant issue for western Stanislaus, an area that keeps producing jobs and is poised for more growth if the demand for new homes rebounds. Del Puerto Health Care District has a Patterson-based ambulance service and a health center with primary care and some medical specialists. Golden Valley Health Centers has clinics that serve low-income patients in the area.

Perez brothers update

Terri Lawson of Modesto said donations came through to purchase iPads for Miguel and Juan Perez, who are disabled by progressive multiple sclerosis.

Lawson, her husband, Don, and other friends visit the Perez home to play music and cheer them up. They are giving iPads to the brothers so they can make music with touch instruments. I wrote about the charitable effort a week ago.

Lawson said the gifts will include two iPads, protective cases, three-year warranties and two floor stands. More than $2,000 was raised through an online site and from people who contacted the Lawsons.

“The generosity of strangers is a beautiful thing,” Lawson wrote in an email.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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