The Coastal Post - December, 1996

Filegate Revealed After Hospital District Election


On Wednesday, November 20, the Marin Health Care District Board of Directors had its first post-election meeting. Coastal Post readers may recall that they helped elect Sylvia Siegel, Diana Parnell, Larry Rose, and Linda Remy to the Board. A primary role of the Health Care Board has been to oversee the lease of Marin General Hospital to a corporation which now is a subsidiary of Sutter/CHS, the second largest health care conglomerate in northern California.

This was a Special Meeting, called by Diana Parnell, Chair of the Board. The agenda was: (1) to swear in new directors Sylvia Siegel and Larry Rose to take the seats of recalled Directors Larry Bedard and Paul Lofholm; (2) to ratify Parnell's actions to secure district files and select a site for the District office; and (3) to orient the incoming directors (Linda Remy takes office on December 5.)

Siegel and Rose were sworn into office forthrightly and with much cheer. But why did Parnell call a special meeting to secure District files and select a site for the District office? We probably will see a lot about this tangled tale in the coming months, so consider this your first eyeshot.

On Thursday November 7, two days after the election, Parnell, asked Joe Echelberry, Assistant to the Board, to give her a file. He told her he could not do that, as the files were being packed and moved to another location. Parnell, whose responsibility is to oversee District administration, had not been notified that the files were being moved and thought the timing was unusual. She hired attorney Cora Lancelle to meet with Echelberry at the hospital on November 8, to obtain independent control over and to secure the safety of the files. Echelberry did not appear on time, and the tale of getting him to the hospital takes up several pages of Lancelle's lengthy report to the Board.

When he finally arrived, Echelberry took Lancelle to a tiny room on the fourth floor, in the Obstetrics unit. This room is off-limits to everyone who is not authorized to enter the Obstetrics unit. It is absolutely inaccessible to the general public. Basically, this is a largish closet.

The files were in complete disarray, had not been inventoried, were not packed and ready to move, and contrary to what Echelberry had told Parnell, no space in the hospital had been prepared to receive the files. Echelberry retrieved Health Care District files from other offices throughout the hospital. He had taken materials to his home, although it apparently is against the law to remove files from the District office. Another series of interchanges ensued with Steve Lipton (the District's counsel), Parnell, Lancelle, Echelberry, and various members of the hospital administration. After several hours, Lancelle was permitted to re-key the door, thereby securing but not inventorying the files.

While this event was transpiring, Echelberry told Lancelle that the materials in this room were all that existed for a District created in 1952 and which operated the hospital until its lease in 1985. District files from before the lease had been segregated from more recent District files and removed to another location which was not identified, and to Echelberry's knowledge all District files had been co-mingled with and/or made a part of Administration files. Echelberry said District files had been moved two or three times since 1985, and that they were being moved now into a wooden prefab structure in the hospital parking lot. Lancelle visited this site and wrote that she doubted this building would be secure from fire, theft, or burglary.

The meeting was fascinating. One funny sight was the large group of about 40 people, including Directors, wandering through hospital halls trying to find where the files were stored. The Directors apparently had never visited the room and did not know where it was located. For the first time in my memory, no representative from the hospital administration attended the meeting. Despite a vacancy rate which hovers around 50%, Parnell had been told that no ground floor space was available in the hospital for publicly-accessible District offices.

Neither the incumbent Directors nor the Board Counsel knew the files had been moved so many times. They did not know who authorized the current move. They were unaware that the filing system had not been maintained. They did not know how or where materials from closed meetings (which are extremely confidential) were stored. Even though the lease says that the District is to be provided a fully equipped office and secretarial support as part of the rent, no one was able to explain why they did not have an office and why they have been paying $20,000 a year for support services.

The resolution to this amazing exercise in public governance was to name Valerie Bergmann, who apparently voted for the $20,000 contract some years ago, and new Director Sylvia Siegel to a committee. Their charge is to oversee Lancelle's efforts to locate and inventory District files, and attempt to secure a publicly-accessible, fully furnished and equipped District office to store the files. I think they also are to prepare a report on the history of the files and office.

I believe that meeting excerpts will show on Channel 31 within the coming month, so check the schedule to see it yourself. Readers who want the full scoop can call the District for their own copies of the public documents summarizing events leading up to the meeting. To get to the District, call 925-7100 and leave a message in Henry Buhrmann's office. He is Chief Executive Officer of Marin General Hospital. The District does not have its own phone number for constituents to contact it directly. Apparently the District has not had one for years. If you don't hear from someone in the District within a short time, you also can write P. O. Box 8010, San Rafael, CA 94912-8010, the address for Marin General Hospital. Again, at present, the public cannot write to the District without going through the hospital administrator's office.

it back to the ballot.

On November 4 the Fire District held the first reading on an ordinance to bill your health insuran3D