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  1. TopTop #1
    Peacetown Jonathan's Avatar
    Investigative Reporter

    Sebastopol Council’s Shameful Record of Inaction on Palm Drive Hospital Crisis


    The debate over what Sebastopol’s City Council has, and has not done, in responding to the unprecedented, sudden, and enormously impactful closing of Palm Drive Hospital, is an important one. I believe this subject merits a more direct and focused title for the Wacco dialog thread than the unspecific “Real or Imagined Issues” subject head that Council Member John Eder started earlier in the week. So I am starting this dialog thread and inviting all members in our community, including elected officials, to weigh in on this public and transparent forum.

    I recognize that the term “shameful” is a provocative one, and I do not use it casually--or without sadness and disappointment. I have often been impressed with the members of our City Council, and find all of them well-intentioned. Indeed, I have provided active support in electing most of them. But on this critical matter, which I have extensive firsthand knowledge of, I have been disheartened to find what I regard as a shameful absence of responsive government. By this, I mean the practice of government that serves the public, not the special interests or the political careers of friends, relatives and allies.

    Sebastopol’s voters should know that more than 40 members of our community, among them doctors, philanthropists, retired health system managers, medical professionals, and volunteers, have been working for five months now to work, through the Palm Drive Foundation, on a plan to craft a sustainable solution that reopens a hospital with a life saving emergency room at Palm Drive. I have taken part in a number of these meetings, and supported this long and challenging effort with strategic and messaging work. These meetings have culminated in a recently submitted proposal for reopening the Hospital that was recently given to the Palm Drive District Board. I look forward to writing about this exciting prospect more here in the near future.

    For this post, I think the public should know that not one member of our City Council has attended a single meeting of the only group in Sonoma County that has been working on reopening Palm Drive Hospital.

    Not one member of our City Council has even offered even a word of support for this effort. This critical path work to reopening the hospital could just as well be happening in another country, for the absence of involvement or support that the members of our City Council have shown for the tremendous volunteer efforts that are underway.

    During the past five months since the hospital closing , there have also been nearly a dozen public meetings, of the District Board, their “listening tour,” Foundation meetings, and the largest town hall in the history of our City. Hundreds of deeply concerned members of our community, myself among them, have expressed our clear demands that everything possible needs to be done on the part of our elected officials to take an active role in reopening the hospital with a life saving emergency room. The only Council Member who attended those meetings has been John Eder. And the only things he has said publicly has been to ask provocative, pessimistic questions that served to exaggerate the challenges to EVER reopening an emergence room, such as his repeated and inaccurate contention that it will cost $20 million in capital repairs to open the doors of the hospital (Mr Eder has been misquoting a single report that basically said the hospital will require $20 million in repairs during the next decade or so. In fact, the hard infrastructure costs of reopening amount to less than $1 million).

    I imagine it is confusing for a citizen to reconcile the inaction of the City Council, and John Eder’s earlier post that the Council has no involvement whatsoever with Palm Drive Hospital, with the resolution of May 6 that Barry posted to Wacco earlier.The unanimous resolution stated that the City Council “pledges to work with the Palm Drive District Board and the community to pursue a viable plan that will lead to the reopening of Palm Drive hospital and provisioning of needed services.”

    It is shocking to me that our City Council members can on one hand unanimously sign off on such a pledge, then do absolutely nothing to work with those in the community spending thousands of volunteer hours working on a solution to the largest health and job loss crisis in Sebastopol history. And then write, as John Eder did, that “The Sebastopol City Council has no jurisdiction within the Palm Drive Health Care District, nor any ability to influence the outcome of the current efforts to reopen Palm Drive Hospital.”

    So our elected City Council officials join the bandwagon to offer lip service, but not an ounce of action, to support their “pledge.” And now they, and their supporters like Marty Roberts and Larry Nichols, suggest that I am out of line to make a campaign issue of the fact that they pledged to work on resolving this life and death crisis but have done absolutely nothing about it?

    Our City Council Members now profess to ALSO want to open our hospital, although what is noticeably missing from their professions of support is opening a hospital that includes the life saving emergency room that is what citizens most want and now so desperately lack.

    I attended the May 6 meeting at which a resolution was voted upon that only vaguely resembles the one that the city now trots out as its official document supporting the opening of the hospital. Although it is a long document, anyone wanting to get a sense of what the Council REALLY said that day ought to read the full minutes here. In them, I was joined by numerous community leaders begging the Council to pressure the District Board to mediate to re-open the emergency room that had just closed eight days earlier. I pointed out that Michael Sweet, the attorney representing Palm Drive Hospital, had an apparent conflict of interest, because one of the largest clients of his law firm, Fox Rothschild, was Palm Drive Bond Trustee Wells Fargo Bank. I explained that Mr. Sweet had given demonstrably misleading advice to both the Palm Drive Board and the public about the ability to use our tax revenues to fund the continuing operations of the hospital while in bankruptcy (I wrote about this at length here on Wacco). I described the questionable logic that led to the rejection of a doctor and foundation led plan that would have kept the hospital open, as well as the likely violation of the Brown Act that had occurred by making the decision to close the hospital behind closed doors weeks before the first public meeting over the closing.

    What followed, during the Council debate, was enough to break the heart of anyone who believed that our elected officials are there to serve the public and the public interest. After lamenting what a terrible thing the hospital closing was, the Council Members ignored the urgent and desperate pleas of the public to join in the efforts then underway to reopen the hospital. Instead, their comments were all focused on passing the buck, and informing the public that they had no jurisdiction, or role to play, in resolving this crisis. Here are direct excerpts from, the minutes which Council Member Patrick Slayter, now Vice Mayor of Sebatsopol (and next in line to be Mayor this December if my City Council race to unseat him is unsuccessful), said in response to public pleas for assistance:

    • “Stated the Council has no jurisdiction of the Board and stated he is concerned with verbiage in resolution
    • Stated he does not know what viable work the subcommittee will be able to do in issues of jurisdiction.
    • Stated he did not know if there is any real viable work that can be done by subcommittee
    • Stated maybe a cheerleader is what is needed”
    And so Sebastopol’s City Council decided that it would not form a subcommittee to work on resolving the crisis. Instead, it was resolved that a letter would be sent to the Palm Drive District Board, offering, presumably as “cheerleaders” support for the challenging decisions they were making to resist community efforts to reopen the hospital quickly. The District Board never responded to the City Council's offer. And nothing, to this day, has been done by Sebastopol's City Council to assist in the herculean efforts to reopen the hopsital.

    What was never stated by the Council, was a resolution that they, our elected representatives in City Government, had listened to the hundreds of voices that had expressed themselves at numerous public meetings. That they had heard the public and so, on our behalf, wanted to see the hospital emergency room reopened as soon as possible. That they anted the District Board to work with, not against, the scores of people working to reopen within weeks, not years.

    As I reported in Wacco at the time, ten days after the May 6 council meeting, I attended the Palm Drive bankruptcy hearing in which the Foundation had requested that Chief Federal Bankruptcy Judge Alan Jaroslovsk appoint a mediator to review the 70-page Physician/Foundation plan that would keep the community’s beloved hospital open. The federal judge recommended Thomas Carlson, a retired and respected federal bankruptcy judge with a lifetime of mediation experience, to spend two days reviewing and mediating the impasse in negotiations that the hospital and Foundation had come to. To see if Palm Drive Hospital might be re-opened immediately.

    In that morning session, Judge Jaroslovsky, who had less jurisdiction than Sebastopol's shamefully silent City Council had, to use the bully pulpit of his office to encourage mediation, used his position to publicly tell Palm Drive's CEO and its attorneys in his bankruptcy courtroom that he thought mediation to possibly reopen immediately was a good idea. “I have spoken to (mediating) judge Carlson and yes, he is available,” Jaroslovsky offered.

    Palm Drive Hopsital attorney Michael Sweet pushed back. The Palm Drive Board, he said, “reflects the public and is making their judgment as to what the public wants. The board is listening closely and doing what it thinks is best to do, but doesn’t think that being forced into a shotgun wedding with the Foundation is where it needs to go. They don’t believe the Foundation plan works.”

    Palm Drive's attorneys further argued that the Hospital, which has since closing spent nearly $2 million on closing-related costs and attorney fees, could not afford to spend a few thousand dollars on a mediation process with the only group ready and able to reopen the hospital. Noting that he could not force mediation, Judge Jaroslovsky tried another tact: “This matter is very troubling to me. If we set the law aside, wouldn’t it be reassuring for the community if the debtor were willing to briefly engage a mediator. I just don’t see how it hurts.”

    Palm Drive Hopsital’s second $500 an hour attorney (paid for with our parcel tax dollars), Dale Britton, stick to his guns, saying “There is no evidence this (reopening ER) is the public opinion at all. We do not have a consensus of voters who think the Emergency Room should re-open.”

    Might there have been a different outcome to these hearing if Sebastopol’s City Council had been practicing responsive government and told the court, on behalf of the thousands of citizens who elected them, what the public opinion of the people of Sebastopol was? Might the Council later have influenced the Palm Drive District Board to appoint respected Dr. Richard Powers, who is working to reopen the hospital, to replace Chris Dawson when he quit last summer, instead of Jim Horn, who has been the most outspoken opponent of the Foundation’s work to reopen the hospital?

    And would the community plan to reopen Palm Drive with an emergency room be moving more quickly had any members of Sebastopol’s City Council actually had the willingness to act upon their unanimous “ pledge” of May 6 to “work with the community” to reopen the hospital.

    The refusal of our City Council Members to be part of the solution to the Palm Drive crisis was the deciding factor in my decision to run for City Council this year. I want to provide leadership for the pubic interest, because I see that leadership sorely lacking in Council Member Patrick Slayter, whom I am working to replace.

    I look forward to adding new leadership to the City Council by working to be an active part of the community solution that is forming to reopen an economically viable new hospital. Future support from our City Council for this important and challenging effort might include subsidized water and sewage rates for the City's largest employer, as well as assistance in marketing hospital services, and insurance plans that allow people to patronize it. A local hospital with an emergency room is important to a thriving, sustainable Sebastopol. Our City Council needs to act as though it understands that everyone has a role in seeing this happen.

    I also urge all West County citizens to vote for Dr Richard Powers and retired police officer Dennis Colthurst, and not incumbent Jim Horn, for Palm Drive District Board.

    Like me, they will work with our community to do everything in their power to reopen a sustainable hospital with an emergency room at Palm Drive.

    Our community deserves no less.
    Last edited by Peacetown Jonathan; 09-22-2014 at 11:08 AM.
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  3. TopTop #2
    Gaiakai's Avatar
    Gaiakai
     

    Re: Sebastopol Council’s Shameful Record of Inaction on Palm Drive Hospital Crisis

    My gratitude to Jonathan for taking the time to write such a compelling article and starting this thread on such a critical and timely issue! I applaud Mr. Greenburg's courage in speaking some hard truths. I feel much more informed on the issues surrounding the Palm Drive Hospital's closure and the lack of responsive government so far.

    Thank you, Jonathan, for not only offering lip service of care and concern, but for giving your time, energy and talents in myriad ways: showing up to meetings, engaging in beneath-the-surface investigative research, writing articles... and most recently for running for city council! We Sebastopolians are lucky to have you and your level of awareness and civic engagement in our community.

    Those already in power will be better served to put aside the temptation to be defensive and instead roll up their sleeves in joining you and the many other creative thinkers who are envisioning a local hospital/wellness center with an emergency room that is well-managed and solvent. We can all learn from what went wrong in the past and move forward in positive, empowered ways.
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  5. TopTop #3
    haammer's Avatar
    haammer
     

    Re: Sebastopol Council’s Shameful Record of Inaction on Palm Drive Hospital Crisis

    It's reassuring to have someone in our community who does this kind of in-depth research. It's truly above and beyond. I hope that I can do enough to help spread the word of Jonathan's passionate dedication to issues that so many Sebastopol residents care about, especially the hospital.
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  7. TopTop #4
    Peacetown Jonathan's Avatar
    Investigative Reporter

    City Council Doubles Down On Justification of Doing Nothing to Help Reopen Palm Drive

    Council Member John Eder yesterday added to his earlier Wacco post to explain the City Council's inaction on the Palm Drive issue, despite their May 6 resolution in which it "pledges to work with the Palm Drive District Board and the community to pursue a viable plan that will lead to the reopening of Palm Drive hospital."

    Council Member Eder's full response is below. He wrote that his justification of the Council's unwillingness to have anything to do with a solution to the largest public health and job loss crisis in Sebastopol's history "is intended to help prevent election season bluster, misinformation, hyperbole, manufactured realities or just plain old BS."

    In other words, why are we bothering them with our crisis when it is not their problem? I follow Mr. Eder's response with my own questions, which I invite any member of the City Council running for re-election, or anyone else to respond to. Foremost among them:

    How do you reconcile the words of the council's unanimous resolution of May 6, to, "work with the community," with your inaction, and Sebastopol CIty Council's unwillingness to assist, in any way, with the reopening effort that dozens of members of our community have been working on?



    JOHN EDER"S FULL RESPONSE SEPT 22 02:01 PM (can also be read on this thread)


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