The Mendocino Coast Healthcare District, if you measure by the number of people it serves and the size of its voting public, is the second biggest political entity in Mendocino County, behind county government itself.
More than 20,000 people live along the broad stretch of coastline from Rockport to Elk and inland past Comptche that MCHD includes. The region is 50 miles or so from hospitals in Willits and Ukiah, but at least an hour’s drive away from those hospitals at almost any point, making a standalone healthcare system for the coast, at least for emergency services, a necessity.
When Mendocino Coast District Hospital gave up its obstetrics department in 2019 just before Adventist took over, it was felt by many as a bitter blow to coast community’s ability to take care of their own.
If you include the growing importance that COVID has put on healthcare, the MCHD’s board of directors has one of the bigger jobs of any local elected body in the county. But the smallest school district has more employees. Right now, MCHCD has none, and is hoping for at least one, or some help from another organization’s office staff.
The district’s board members - President Jessica Grinberg, Secretary Sara Spring, Treasurer John Redding, member Amy McColley and at large member Norman de Vall, have taken on many staff functions themselves, with uneven results, as Grinberg acknowledged in an interview Monday.
Grinberg and board secretary Sara Spring agreed to an interview over the holiday weekend after de Vall, who was appointed to an at-large seat last fall when no one ran for it in the Fall 2020 election, sounded an alarm of sorts about what he called irregularities in how the healthcare district board is doing its job. De Vall, a retired longtime Fifth District county supervisor who said he sits on the boards of five other organizations, said last week he is ready to refer the healthcare district board to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and possibly the county Grand Jury over what he said are general irregularities in how it conducts its meetings. At the same time he said he wants to continue working on the board and believes in its mission.
A quick look at the district’s online presence shows information about the district’s meetings (minutes and agendas) spread across two different websites and a Facebook page. One of the websites is for the former Mendocino Coast District Hospital (mcdh.org), the other is a newer website formed for the district, (mchcd.org). That website contains the agenda for the board’s latest meeting. The MCDH website contains records of meetings from June 27 back.
In July, there was no meeting, and no record of it being cancelled. Then, during the second week of August, there were two board meetings in quick succession, on Aug. 9 and 12, although no record of those meetings exists on either website.
The agenda of the August 26 meeting contained three items to be “ratified or reconsidered” from the meeting on Aug. 12. Those items are leasing space for a mental health respite office (approved), devising a method of disposing of surplus property (ongoing), and a contract for legal services with Jacob Patterson, which the board voted to reject.
Also on the August 26 agenda was an item to consider several aspects of the board’s public information efforts, including how to respond to the ongoing survey about healthcare needs that the board started circulating last month.
Grinberg said Monday she and the board is “well aware” of shortcomings in public disclosure. She blamed it on the difficulty of hiring qualified office staff and said board members de Vall and Redding had taken on development of the new website and the district’s online profile generally, and that effort is still under way. She and Spring said they are hoping to get administrative and communications help from Fort Bragg city government or another local organization.
“We are definitely working on this,” Grinberg said Monday.
Grinberg said the August 9 meeting was cancelled after it had begun because a member of the public complained about lack of notice. The meeting was rescheduled for three days later, on August 12. Then, she said, “out of an abundance of caution” for continuing concerns over public notice, the items voted on in the August 12 meeting were voted on again on Aug. 26. Notice for the meetings in early August was posted on doors at the hospital, Grinberg said. She acknowledged that, especially since COVID, posting notices of meetings at the hospital, which is currently barred to the public, might meet the letter of the law, but does little to actually notify the public of what the board is doing. “We want to do better than that,” she said.
From now on, said Grinberg and Spring, notices of meetings will be posted on the district’s website, mchcd.org, on the district’s Facebook page, and on the Fourth and Fifth District community Facebook pages.
Actually, the healthcare district board is hoping to do more to engage the public than post its meetings, Grinberg said. The survey that is now circulating is meant to be a basis for determining the district’s future direction, she said. Healthcare districts in California actually have very broad powers to determine what is a healthcare need and then use public funds to address it. Grinberg said that, rather than being an implied criticism of Adventist Health, as some have suggested, the survey is a way for the community to make clear its own healthcare priorities, for the district to pursue.
Grinberg said, once survey responses are collected, the board will report on the results to the public. She said she hopes to hold Town Hall-style meetings starting in October to broaden the district’s mission.
“The truth is we protect the major (healthcare) asset of the community and we protect the tax base,” she said. “We want to be responsive in how we do that.”