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November 2000

MGH And MMWD Board Races


By Louis Nuyens - Marin Healthcare District Board

This race will determine whether the Healthcare District Board continues to pursue recovery of community control of Marin General Hospital decision-making.

One key item about which there has been confusion is whether community control means MGH would lose the alleged benefits from being a part of the Sutter system. It would not. Under community representatives on the board, MGH would still be operated by professional management free to make whatever contracts or arrangements with other entities that would be in the best interests of our community.

The fundamental difference is bottom-line decisions about key services and quality of care would be made by elected community representatives, responsive to the public rather to a corporation with its own agendas. And deliberations of those decisions would have to be open, rather than closed, to the public.

In 1985, control of MGH was effectively taken out of the hands of Marin residents and given away under a virtually rent-free 30-year lease to a private corporation. This action was highly controversial in that some board members allegedly had obvious conflicts of interest, and Marin residents were not invited to approve the vote. Worse yet, in 1995 another conflicted board, by a 2 to 0 vote (with 3 abstentions), permitted the pledge of all MGH revenues to guarantee payment of all of Sutter's debt (now over $1 billion).

Healthcare advocates report deteriorating quality of care and reduction of important services. Under Sutter management: MGH has received multiple citations for failure to meet minimum staffing levels and quality of care standards. MGH Registered Nursing staffing has been cut by 40%. MGH's Intermediate Care Unit has experienced intermittent closures. MGH changed the name of its Coronary Care Unit, vital for quality heart-attack treatment, to Cardiac Specialty Unit, thus avoiding state mandated staffing ratios. The MGH newborn nursery had well babies in the same area as sick newborns in violation of state regulations. Sutter has been accused of cutting back services to use MGH as a cash-cow. MGH staff who have raised quality of care and regulatory compliance issues have reportedly been variously harassed, transferred, fired and sued.

Enter the reformers.

Esther "Essie" Blau, a 20-year MGH Registered Nurse who beat a Sutter 'gag suit' after speaking out about deteriorating conditions at MGH, is joined by incumbent board members Dr. John Severinghaus and Dr. Diana Parnell in a slate of candidates determined to regain community control of MGH management.

These candidates must overcome a pervasive media smokescreen by Sutter and inadequate fact-based reporting by local media. Whether or not MGH services are provided by a large-scale provider, MGH services stand to improve if elected healthcare advocates, rather than Sutter, have the final say.

Marin Municipal Water District Board

This water board election centers largely on whether to immediately build a new pipeline to allow Marin to take still more water from the Russian River to fuel Marin growth, or whether to focus on improved conservation and recycling measures and good long-range planning. The main points around the pipeline issue are these:

The pipeline won't eliminate rationing during drought years-it's purpose is solely to allow large increases in Marin growth.

The pipeline will cost approximately $20 Million to build, assuming Petaluma accommodates Marin by enlarging the main Petaluma pipeline at its own expense, which it might choose not to do.

Water rates in Marin would increase immediately and significantly, not decrease, as a result of construction of the new pipeline.

The Sonoma County Water Agency is scheduling a 60% rate increase over the next 7 years for its Sonoma customers; Marin's SCWA rates have always been much higher than those of Sonoma customers.

In addition to the price of construction, Marin may become liable for a large share of the cost of new infrastructure for the SCWA, costs estimated at up to $1 Billion (the "B" is not a 'typo').

MMWD saves $1.5 Million in interest each year that it does not build the pipeline.

MMWD's Citizen Advisory Committee studied the matter in detail and determined the pipeline is not immediately needed.

The Russian River is heavily polluted, much of which is upstream of drinking water collectors. Mt. Tam water, MMWD's primary source, is relatively pristine. Water quality concerns have arisen over increasing Marin use of Russian River water. The quantity and complexity of Russian River pollutants will increase as Sonoma County continues to grow. For many known pollutants testing is inadequate or too infrequent, for others there is no testing at all. Emerging, potentially hazardous pollutants are not tested for at all.

Vocal project proponents have been, almost exclusively, real estate, construction, and development interests.

Opponents of immediate construction include the Marin United Taxpayers Association and 22 environmental organizations from Mendocino, Sonoma, Marin and San Francisco.

Use of Russian River water contributes to damage to both the Eel and Russian Rivers. The Federal Endangered Species Act and an environmental lawsuit may impact the ability of Marin to access water at some point after the pipeline is built, therefore the Russian River is potentially and unreliable water supply source.

Marin Municipal Water District candidates Toni Kendall (MMWD District 5, Southern Marin) and Alex Forman (MMWD District 2, San Rafael) believe MMWD should evaluate true total costs of construction, water quality and reliability issues, and alternatives before further considering pipeline construction. Their respective opponents, Dick Hill and Morrow Cater, favor immediate construction of the pipeline. Both are backed by pro-development interests.

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