Shannon Baumann and Virginia Lopez, housekeepers at the Jerold Phelps Community Hospital, keep the entrance to the hospital gleaming with a spring cleaning in May 2017. Voters on Tuesday appeared to approve Southern Humboldt County’s parcel tax which would allow the hospital to remain open. – José Quezada — For the Times-Standard

Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District CEO Matt Rees sounded almost despondent last Tuesday night when the early results showed the district’s parcel tax Measure F lacked the two-thirds voter approval needed to extend the existing $125 parcel tax to fund ongoing hospital operations.

But with the final election night results showing 73.72 percent of votes in favor of extending the parcel tax through June 2028, he sounded much more cheery when reached the afternoon after election day.

“Up until 1 o’clock until I got the text that the final results were up and I saw the results, I was wondering what we were going to do to keep the hospital open until we could try [to get voters to approve of a ballot measure] again,” Rees said.

“It is vital to have the parcel tax,” he added.

The results are not official until they have been certified, which occurs within 30 days of an election.

With an emergency room, the only one in Southern Humboldt County, and the risk of losing the hospital district money, he said, it’s a “huge relief” that the measure appeared to be passing.

“We would have to close, if that did not pass,” Rees said.

He thanked the community who voted to support the parcel tax extension which, according to the full text of the ballot measure, is expected to raise $1.5 million annually.

“I just really want to express my thanks for the support we got from the community in passing Measure F,” Rees said.

The next closest emergency room to Garberville is 50 miles away so if the measure hadn’t passed people with medical emergencies would have had to drive up to Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna or even farther to Fort Bragg or Willits hospitals in Mendocino County.

Rees said the Measure F revenue will also help the hospital meet state required seismic standards by the 2020 deadline which, for clarity, aren’t the same updated seismic standards that pushed the district to look into buying land and building a new hospital.

“There are state seismic standards we have to meet by 2020 and we have state seismic standards we have to meet by 2030,” he said.

According to the Humboldt County Elections Office cumulative report, in May 2017 district voters shot down a raised and extended parcel tax — Measure W — with 55.91 percent of votes cast in opposition to the measure which would have allowed the district to finance the building of the new hospital. Now, Rees hopes, Measure F and some help possibly from a bill winding its way through the federal legislation now. The Rural Emergency Medical Center bill, he said, would allow the hospital to operate a stand alone ER — which is currently not allowed under California law — and be reimbursed more from Medical for care given which is welcome because right now the ER costs the district money to operate.

“It would make it feasible, another 10 percent wouldn’t make it profitable but it would help a lot,” Rees said.

“Maybe what we just passed might work.”

He said the district is also looking into purchasing the College of the Redwood Garberville instructional site for $1.1 million to build its new hospital.

“It’s in contract. We are still doing studies on the property to see if we can build a hospital on it,” Rees said.

He previously told the Times-Standard that the CR site is the only feasible property to build a hospital but last week said he will go the county on June 19 to see if it’s possible to ask for flight paths above the property to be slightly adjusted since hospitals aren’t allowed to be built under flight paths.

Hunter Cresswell can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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