Three run for two Oak Valley seats

OAKDALE -- Rebuilding the hospital is a top priority for two men seeking re-election Nov. 4 to the Oak Valley Hospital District board.

A third candidate for one of the two board seats wants to contribute her ideas for completing the hospital project and for improving health care in the Oak Valley district.

The hospital district encompasses Oakdale, Waterford, Knights Ferry, Valley Home and part of Riverbank. It operates the nonprofit Oak Valley Hospital, an ambulance service, a long-term care facility and rural health clinics.

Seeking another term on the board are James Teter, an Oakdale jewelry store owner and board member for 20-plus years, and Paul Westberg, an almond farmer near Oakdale and board member for eight years.

The third candidate is Stacey Morgan-Foster, vice president of student affairs at California State University, Stanislaus, and an Oakdale-area resident.

As chairman of the district's building committee, Teter helped to develop plans to build a larger facility to replace the 35-bed Oak Valley Hospital.

District voters approved $37 million in bond financing for the project in 2004. But the costs skyrocketed as a state agency reviewed the plans, and the district twice asked voters this year to approve an additional $27 million in property assessments. (Measure O fell short by 86 votes in April and Measure Q also failed to win two-thirds approval in August.)

Teter, 59, supports a plan to move forward with rebuilding the hospital by taking an additional $4 million from reserves, issuing an additional $7.5 mil- lion in revenue bonds, trimming costs and seeking state approval to build the hospital in phases.

The financing plan leaves Oak Valley with a $16 million shortfall on the $110 million hospital replacement project.

"We can't sit here and do nothing," Teter said. "The hospital is 35 years old and the maintenance is a tremendous cost factor. All of the above are on the table. We are looking at everything diligently to see what we can do."

Westberg, 57, said hospital revenue can cover the shortfall if the state allows for building the project over seven to 10 years. If elected to another term, he said he will push for another building project to replace the long-term care facility adjacent to the hospital. Oak Valley purchased the facility in 1987.

He said the district would work with an outside partner to build the long-term care facility at another location. Taxpayers wouldn't be asked to foot the bill, he said.

Morgan-Foster, 49, said she's offering her experience in supervising health centers at university campuses. The campus health center is one of 14 departments she oversees at CSUS, and she was director of a clinic at American University in Washington, D.C., she said.

"There are some creative things the board can be considering to get the hospital built with the money that is available," she said. "I would like to create a good working relationship with the hospital administration so we have high-quality health care in the area."

She said she disagreed with Oak Valley's decision to hold another bond vote after Measure O failed. District officials could have been more clear in explaining the project to the public, she added.

She affirmed that accessibility to health care is important to the well- being of residents and the economic vitality of the region.

Westberg, who previously worked for a medical software company, said in recent years Oak Valley has increased the capacity of its health clinics, which serve many low-income patients, and that has reduced the burden on the hospital's emergency room.

It can further improve medical serv- ices in the community by recruiting specialists and other physicians, he said. "The more general practitioners we can bring in, the better off we will be," he said.

Teter said his board experience is needed in these tough economic times. "We have to be very prudent in our spending and our oversight," he said. "The economy is a major issue right now."

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