Sonoma West Times & News, March 18, 2015

Palm Drive District Explores Health Care Issues in West County

April 2 meeting presents findings from community outreach series

Looking past all the current excitement and scattered protests over the reopening of Palm Drive Hospital, the board of directors for the West County’s health care district is peeling into other layers of health care issues including a possible new model for ambulance coordination, emergency medical services and other community-based, non-hospital programs.

A special public meeting will be held at 5:30 on Thursday, April 2 at Palm Drive Hospital to present some early findings developed from a recent series of meetings with 12 community health service consultants and as a follow-up to four constituent “listening sessions” held last year in Bodega Bay, Guerneville and Sebastopol.

“This could be very exciting,” said the district’s interim executive director Daymon Doss. Even before the hospital was closed last April, the district directors had begun these outreach sessions. “We’ve had a lot of discussion about which projects we might wish to pursue.”

A long list of unmet health care needs was quickly developed and the district appointed an ad hoc committee and an advisory group to help set priorities and identify possible future programs.

Ideas listed included a series of health education programs for teens and others about drugs, nutrition, vaccination education and exercising. Also mentioned were various mental health programs, in-home senior care or programs, mobile emergency care, outreach clinics and a 24-hour pharmacy.

Doss said following the meeting and more pubic input, the district directors might direct staff to explore possible joint power ventures, or specific project budgets.

One report on April 2 will look at recent emergency response patterns among the West County’s volunteer and paid EMT-staffed ambulances — both before and after the closing of Palm Drive’s emergency room. The report will be presented by Bryan Cleaver, EMS administrator for the Coastal Valley EMS Agency.

Emergency medical services (84 percent) was the most frequently listed service needed by attendees at the four listening sessions. Prevention (63 percent), hospital (58 percent) and mental health (53 percent) were the next highest needs.

Brian Vaughn, director for the county’s Health Policy, Planning and Evaluation will present a “portrait” of what is happening in public health, programs and services, as well as some population demographics of the West County.

The Palm Drive Health Care District includes a large area from Sebastopol west to Bodega Bay and Jenner, and along the corridor of the Russian River. Formed in 2001, district property owners now pay a $155 annual parcel tax that has subsidized Palm Drive Hospital operations.

Financial troubles have plagued the hospital and stymied past district outreach efforts. The original charter for the health care district emphasizes support for the hospital and emergency services, but allows for other community-based services.

The Palm Drive Health Care District is currently in Chapter 9 bankruptcy and has not filed an “exit” plan to satisfy almost $10 million in unpaid payroll and vendor bills.

The district has signed a management agreement to allow the Sonoma West Medical Foundation, formerly Palm Drive Health Care Foundation, to reopen the hospital, possibly as early as next month.

The only assets of the district are future parcel tax collections which total about $3.7 million a year, plus the unappraised value of the hospital building and property.

A group of River corridor residents have been protesting the reopening of the hospital for fear of accumulating more losses and tax liability. They are seeking “detachment” from the health care district. (A meeting on the topic was held Thursday, March 19 in Monte Rio.)