HoSPITAL TOWN HALLS
MONDAY, MARCH 27
SHCHD Town Hall meeting
5–7 p.m. at the Abalone Hall
1555 Upper Pacific Drive
TUESDAY, MARCH 28
SHCHD Town Hall meeting
5–7 p.m. at Stevens Hall
In the coming weeks, voters in the Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District will vote by mail on Measure W to decide whether or not to pass a higher parcel assessment tax to fund building a new hospital.
The district hosted a town hall-style meeting attended by about 30 district residents at the Healy Senior Center in Redway on Thursday afternoon.
Healthcare district representatives say the benefits of maintaining a local hospital are the jobs, maintained property values and having access to emergency health care. Some community members at the meeting expressed concerns about future rises in the parcel assessment if Measure W passes and what they called “overburdening” property owners with taxes to pay for the proposed new hospital.
If approved, Measure W would replace the current $125 per year parcel assessment tax on qualified properties, which was set to sunset in 2018, with another annual $170 parcel assessment.
SHCHD CEO Matt Rees said, if passed, the revenue from the Measure W parcel assessments would enable his district to secure a USDA rural development program loan which would fund the building of a new hospital. A new hospital needs to be built because of approaching building regulations, he said.
“There are some additional requirements coming up in 2030 that if we don’t meet those requirements, the hospital will be shut down,” Rees said.
The current Jerold Phelps Community Hospital building is 60 years old and can’t be brought up to the new codes, he said.
“The building can’t be further retrofitted nor can we build on the current site,” SHCHD Board of Directors Vice President Dave Ordonez said during the meeting.
Demolishing the old hospital and rebuilding a new one on the same site would be more expensive and take more time than building a new one elsewhere, he said.
If 2030 rolls around and the hospital has to shut down, the people that make up the 2,500 emergency room visits the hospital receives every year will have to travel more than 50 miles to the next emergency room. In addition, local property values will fall and 80 hospital jobs, which account for $4.5 million in annual payroll, will leave the community, Ordonez said. Former SHCHD Board member and Southern Humboldt Community Foundation PR director Barbara Truitt said studies have shown property values could fall around 20 percent if the hospital is shuttered.
“So is it all or nothing? Pretty much,” Ordonez said.
Voters can either pay the increased parcel tax or not have a hospital come 2030, Ordonez said.
“So should we build a new hospital? That’s up to you, the voter,” he said.
Rees said building a new hospital would cost about $40 million, most of which would come from USDA loans that are dependent on having this parcel tax in place during the 40-year loan. If Measure W passes and SHCHD gets the needed loan, the district would lock in the current interest rate. That rate may go down but it can’t go up, Rees said.
“Within the next two to three months we hope to lock in the loan,” he said during the meeting.
It takes at least six years to open a hospital, Rees said. If Measure W passes, this year will be spent getting the loans and proper funding lined up, next years will be the design phase, then the state legislative reviews could take up to two years. It could take another two years after than for the hospital to be built.
“It’s probably going to take more, in the seven to eight [year] range,” Rees said.
Most community members during the meetings seemed to support the idea of having a local hospital but didn’t like how the burden to pay for the loan is being placed on the property owners.
“I’m sick and tired of having the property owners being responsible for the ills of Western civilization,” Salmon Creek business and property owner Bob Berry said.
“I just don’t believe a damn word being said, excuse my language, but I’m just sick and tired of this,” he said.
Ordonez said he felt Berry’s pain and that he doesn’t like the idea of a portion of the population paying more than another for a hospital for everyone.
“The frustration is great,” Ordonez said.
In the end, it’s up to the voters.
“It’s a complex issues so we’re doing our best to educate the community on why we need the hospital,” Truitt said before the discussion began.
“Many studies have shown that losing a hospital in a small rural community negatively impacts the health of the community members and the vitality of the economy,” she added. “Having a new hospital has been proven over and over again to have the opposite affect, improving health and increasing property values.”
Learn more about the healthcare district at shchd.org.
Hunter Cresswell can be reached at 707-441-0506.