Palm Drive Health Care District may be getting smaller in the next couple months.
An area of the district in Bodega Bay was approved for detachment by the Sonoma County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) at a May 1 meeting. The vote was unanimous, 6-0, with Commissioner Jean Kapolchok absent.
Elizabeth Martin is the leader for the community seeking to detach from the health care district.
Martin said there are three main reasons for detachment from the district: 1. District mismanagement fiscally and a lack of transparency 2. The closure of the emergency room at Sonoma Specialty Hospital in Sebastopol and 3. The potential for the accumulation of additional debt from the hospital.
“At the end of October, it was over $2.8 million in debt,” Martin said.
According to a report from AAMG Chief Operating Officer Matt Salas at the May 6 Palm Drive board meeting, that deficit is at $3.23 million as of April. AAMG is the management company for the hospital.
The detachment effort required 25% of registered voters in the area to move ahead.
In the future, the Bodega area will rely on “community paramedicine,” Martin said, noting that the fire protection district paramedics would still be able to serve the community in the new model and would be able to communicate with doctors at full service hospitals should there be an issue. Then, there could be coordination between the groups to see when and where someone would need to be transported.
“We can be their (the hospitals’) eyes and ears,” Martin said.
The detachment presentation was summarized for the commission by Mark Bramfitt, executive director of LAFCO. He said that the detachment and the general state of the health care district is something that LAFCO has been aware of. Bramfitt said LAFCO is given regular reports on Palm Drive and as part of the detachment hearing, an update of the changes in the last two years for the district was provided again.
“They didn’t really question it (detachment) much. I think they really just agreed with those reasons and voted for it. There wasn’t a lot of discussion,” Bramfitt said. “The commission is aware that there’s just continued issues, ‘operating issues,’within the district. They think they are not through with them yet.”
This is the second area to receive approval to leave Palm Drive, the first being the lower Russian River. That area used the Monte Rio, Forestville and Guerneville school district maps to mark the seccession boundary.
Bramfitt said LAFCO is “hip to the possibilities” of more areas wishing to leave in the future and that other options such as dissolution of the district may be addressed.
The issue will be brought back for final approval at LAFCO’s meeting on July 3. For now, registered voters and property owners within the area have a chance to protest the detachment. If 25% of either group sign onto a protest, LAFCO will consider the response; if 50% protest, the detachment request will be terminated. Detachments that are halted this way must wait one year before applying again.
“If there’s people out there against it, they’re hiding really well,” Martin said of the probability for the effort to be protested.
The potential detached area used the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District boundaries as its perimeter for cost savings reasons. Though it is the same mapped area as the fire protection district, the detachment has nothing else to do with fire services.
Martin did say that since she is the president of the Bodega Bay Fire Protection Board, there had been some accusations of conflict of interest, but that they were unfounded. The district did receive a grant of $45,000 over 10 years from Palm Drive, Martin said.
“We are very appreciative of the grant money. We’ve put it to good use. The last grant money we got, we were able to buy a Stryker gurney, which is much more user friendly,” Martin said.
The mapped area is relatively low in population. Martin said the total is around 1,000, and as such she requested that LAFCO cut its deposit requirement in half, from $5,000 to $2,500. It agreed, and Martin said she was able to raise the necessary amount in seven days.
She is now making sure she has time to raise the money required to finish the process.
“I want to be ready for when we come back in July,” Martin said.
This process was not out of the blue, Martin said. The points that were raised came from years of seeing the district go through two bankruptcies and the issues with selling the hospital and paying AAMG while operating at losses.
“I would never put the community in a situation that they didn’t want,” Martin said.
Though the detachment will free Bodega Bay from any further tax burden, it will still be liable for its share of the debt accumulated so far. Martin said that if Russian River’s detachment is any indication, the area could still be taxed for the next 20 years to pay this off.
“The community of Bodega Bay can do better with those monies for medical services,” Martin said.
In addition to no longer incurring fees, Bodega Bay will no longer have a voice in the district’s operations and residents in the area will no longer be able to run for a board seat.
At the Palm Drive Health Care District Board of Directors meeting May 6, Executive Director Alanna Brogan said that the only issue she had with the process was information in LAFCO’s municipal service review. She said it contained factual errors of the hospital’s history and that it was approved with the condition that Bramfitt review the facts with her in the near future.