A standing room only crowd filled the Redwoods Room at the Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) at three in the afternoon, Monday, July 15. From hospital staffers to first time citizen attendees, the throng was present to hear and see a presentation on the topic of the year at MCDH: a possible affiliation with a larger hospital group.
No announcement was made regarding the two contenders, Adventist Health (AH) and Advanced American Management Group (AAMG), but the audience played witness to the reduced MCDH Board of Directors. Only three board members were present. With Board President Karen Arnold and Board Vice-President Jessica Grinberg having recused themselves due to a Fair Political Practices Commission ruling (Grinberg's situation is apparently under appeal), board member Amy McColley nominated former MCDH Board President Steve Lund to chair the meetings in the absence of the two missing officers. The only remaining board member, John Redding, seconded the nomination and Lund was seated with the gavel by voice vote. Lund was also nominated and approved by McColley and Lund as chair of the hospital's ad hoc committee on affiliation. That committee is made up of McColley, interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Wayne Allen, along with Lund.
Watching the audience, one couldn't escape the conclusion that almost everyone present had accepted the concept that MCDH was going to affiliate. One could take it a step further and say that this particular crowd deemed affiliation a done deal.
Readers may want to take a gander at the July 17 AVA account of Michael Turner, a retired doctor who worked for Adventist. Some of Dr. Turner's critique appears valid, but readers may want to seek out other inside sources concerning Adventist Health's practices. Dr. Turner's analysis is broken down into subject headings, including one entitled “Physician Flight,” which indicates that Turner is not really familiar with the actual circumstances on the coast. Dr. Turner concludes this section, “If Adventist comes to town, expect a greater than 50/50 likelihood that your doctor will retire or leave town.”
Almost all the highly qualified doctors, specialists, and general practitioners have already left the coast or retired. Potential patients of MCDH are left with a beggars-can't-be-choosers situation. Thus, many have already sought services from Adventist Health over the hill.
The only speaker in the opening round of public comments at the July 15 MCDH Board meeting was an 80-year-old Comptche woman sitting with her 86-year-old husband in the middle of the gathering. Her prepared statement included, “The decision that will be made by the Board, and hopefully the community, will affect our lives and those of many of our friends greatly… [W]e drive long distances for food, supplies and medical appointments. Many of our friends do the same from Mendocino and Fort Bragg. There is no public transportation from Comptche to Santa Rosa, Ukiah, Willits and the greater Bay Area for medical services that we choose to use. When we are unable to drive that far, we will need to make decisions.
“It would be financially and logistically best for us to move into our Fort Bragg rental… We must… consider the medical services available if we move. We choose many local services now, but we do not choose the services of the general hospital [MCDH]. We instead use Howard Hospital, Ukiah Valley Hospital, Kaiser Hospital, Sutter Hospital and many specialized medical services away from the coast for things such as optical and hearing. In the event of an emergency, we have used the helicopter with the destination of Howard Hospital.
“It would be more convenient to use the Coast Hospital, but we feel that we are not well heard there, that there is not continuity with doctors and nurses, and that medical equipment and personnel running that equipment are often not in the mainstream of current practices. This is the result of our personal experiences and those of friends for whom we often help with caregiving.
“It would be of great service to us and to our friends if the Coast Hospital was run by the Adventist Group that runs two quality hospitals close by with excellent organization, quality of care and continuity of service. We hope that you will not get lost in things such as unions versus non unions… that are not about the quality of care and organization…
“There is a large population of homeowners in this coastal community who would like to use Coast Hospital with confidence. We hope and ask you to make decisions that will bring proven organization, quality and continuity of care front and center for the places that we love.”
Though I am not an Adventist nor do I ever anticipate being one, I have gone to an Adventist dental office in Ukiah since I was a teenager (same locale, just two dentists throughout that time span). The treatment I've received from office workers to the hygienists to the dentists has always been excellent. Any rise in pricing there over the years appears to be commensurate with similar costs throughout California. The current dentist at this office sits on the board of directors of Ukiah Valley Medical Center. Does this mean your medical care at Adventist Health will be of the same quality. Who knows?
I can only speak for one anecdotal experience in which Dr. William Bowen, at Howard Hospital, lived up to his reputation as a top notch orthopedic surgeon. In addition, everyone else, from receptionists to nurses provided professional as well as extremely courteous care.
Time will tell if MCDH affiliates with Adventist Health. The odds are it will. In the meantime, day to day medical matters march forward on the coast, some neglected for years and some finally being addressed. One of the rumors on the street concerning an Adventist Health takeover of MCDH is that the Adventists will shut down labor and delivery services. From this vantage point a just as likely to be a true outcome is that MCDH will cease labor and delivery services well before Adventist puts its name on the door.
With that in mind, it is interesting to note parts of a mid-July press release that appears to indicate help may be on the way to the coast. The release stated, “A committed group of women are coming together to ensure that women’s reproductive health needs will continue to be met on the coast… The group includes Lucresha Renteria, [Mendocino Coast Clinics] Executive Director, Jessica Grinberg, owner of Align Orthotics and Prosthetics, Karen Arnold, Human Resources Manager for MCC. They are creating a business plan that will be used to form a nonprofit Women’s Health center... [T]he vision for the new center includes a warm, welcoming birthing center staffed by qualified mid-wives and physicians. The center will also provide Gynecological services including family planning. The center is not meant to replace the hospital’s labor and delivery department but to offer other options to women on the coast. As an independent center, it will not be subject to federal reproductive restrictions. Lucresha Renteria states, 'Many women have been making the long drive to Ukiah to give birth. We would like to make it possible for them to give birth near their home in an attractive birthing center.'
“While the group is in the initial stages of creating a business plan and seeking funding, they are excited about the support they are already receiving. They will soon be creating a board of directors to assist in the creation of the organization. They will also begin the process of acquiring a building for the center. For more information, call 707-964-1849.”
I called the phone number almost immediately after being informed of its existence then again about five days later. What you get is a pleasant voice telling you that you have reached “Women's Quality Care” and the encouragement to leave a message so that someone can get back to you. How soon all the aforementioned services will be fully functional remains to be seen, but it appears that the ball is rolling in the right direction.
Conversely, the coastal newspaper seems stuck rehashing events from months gone by that are now moot points. In that vein, the coast papers published this tidbit of twisted logic at the conclusion of one of their July 18 pieces, “The MCDH Board of Directors, with the exception of John Redding, has adopted a blanket policy of not responding to inquiries from the press, instead promising to issue 'facility press releases' through Allen, or offering to have private conversations.”
This brief paragraph holds MCDH Board member John Redding up as some sort of beacon of transparency. Reality stems from an all day MCDH Board of Directors “retreat” held June 29 in Little River. The meeting was open to the public. This member of the public attended. The theme of the entire affair was something along the lines of building team consensus on critical issues. One of the things that all five MCDH Board of Directors agreed to do from that point on was to have interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Wayne Allen be the public face of board statements regarding press releases. In other words they all agreed to speak as one, through Allen, about matters directly relevant to MCDH. What the coast paper fails to inform its readers is that Mr. Redding is violating that board agreement when speaking openly to them. The coastal publication remains ignorant of that significant differentiation because it failed to send any representative to any part of an eight hour public MCDH Board meeting.