On Friday, August 24, Kern Valley Hospital District CEO Tim McGlew came to the weekly Kern River Valley Rotary meeting to share information about the district’s upcoming parcel tax measure.
According to McGlew, the hospital has been working tirelessly since January to rework the project budget and plans for the hospital so that it would meet the state mandated seismic upgrades.
When the Senate Bill 1953 was passed in the mid-‘90s, it required all acute care hospitals that were being constructed be compliant and current structures to make seismic upgrades that would allow them to remain standing and operational after a major earthquake, but it provided no means of funding to aid hospitals. If upgrades are not completed by 2030, McGlew stated that their licenses to provide services would not be renewed by the state and the hospital would have to shut down.
When last year’s ballot measure, which would have funded a $58 million project,t failed to pass, the hospital board, with the help of community feedback, was able to bring the budget down to $35 million. The hospital intends to contribute $7 million dollars of its own operating money to the fund and was able to secure a rural hospital loan with a fixed interest rate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the remaining $28 million. However, they still need to raise funds from the community with the new $82 per parcel tax that will be on this November’s ballot to insure that the loan is repaid.
Because the hospital has to remain open during construction, the project intends to do the seismic upgrades and remodeling in three phases that will take approximately 5 years to complete.
“We’ve got this down to as bare bones as we can get it,” said McGlew.
McGlew also emphasized that even though they had cut back in some areas, like the number of beds and administration office space, the new floor plan allowed for easy expansion if the needs of community required it. However, he underlined the importance of securing the funds now so that they do not lose the loan with the lower interest rate.
“This is vital that we get this approved,” said McGlew. “The longer this delays, the more expensive it gets.”
Kern Valley Hospital District Board Member Charlie Busch also spoke of other hospitals that are out of compliance and are facing the same requirements as Kern Valley Hospital. Busch also expressed concerns about the diminishing availability of qualified contractors and the raise in costs if the project isn’t started in the near future. He also addressed the concern that some community members expressed about having more than one parcel. This time around, an exemption through a waiver will be available that can be offered on qualifying lots that are deemed “unusable” or “unbeneficial” to the owner. Busch also praised the hospital’s facilities manager Bob Easterday and McGlew for all the work they have done to get the project where it is today.
Rotary member and longtime resident Kathleen Creighton Fuchs also praised the efforts that the board has put forth on the project and the accommodations that they have made for community members that own more than one parcel, but she expressed her disappointment that she felt in regards to agricultural land that may be made up of many parcels and how daunting that could be to local ranchers. However, McGlew stated that the reports they received from the county stated that there were only a few owners that had upwards of 17 or 18 parcels, and based on feedback that was given by the community, the parcel tax was greatly favored over the GO bond.
“In the grand scheme of things, compared to everyone else, it’s hard to find a solution that works for everybody,” said McGlew.
Rotary Treasurer Mike Dake inquired how the hospital board intends to get the word out and to get the community to vote, since the campaign was seemingly lacking the last time around. McGlew acknowledged that last year’s campaign, which was handled by a successful advertising firm out of Oakland, was out of touch with what works in the Kern River Valley community.
“We are definitely doing it differently this time,” said McGlew. “We are keeping it local with people who know our community and know our people.”
Dake also commented that social media can be both beneficial and detrimental to the cause, especially with community members that are vocal about unfavorable experiences with the hospital that may have happened many years ago, under different management, and are unwilling to “let it go.”
Rotary Member Daures Stephens also spoke in favor of doing whatever it would take to keep the hospital open by bringing to light that most of the community consists of retired and elderly individuals who require access to medical facilities on a regular basis and who would have to relocate if there was no hospital nearby. He also mentioned that he had discussed with local realtors what potential buyers were looking for when considering relocating to the area, and they stated that having medical facilities nearby was always part of the conversation.
“If people want to vote against it, they’re voting against the economy,” said Stephens.
Busch also added that the portion of property tax that goes towards the hospital has not gone up since 1968, and the annual funds that the hospital receives would not even cover payroll for 2 weeks. He also acknowledged that unfortunate things have happened in the past and encouraged the community to tell the board about their bad experiences so that they can fix them.
Judy Hyatt of Hyatt Consulting Group and Building Healthy Communities added that the only way to educate the public is to present them with the facts and have a discussion so they can make an informed decision. After four open houses, one public meeting and numerous luncheon meetings that have happened over the course of the year, Hyatt suggested that if the public wishes to gain more information that they invite a small group to a location of their choice and have the informed parties show up. She also acknowledged that most of the opposition stems from an emotional base rather than a factual or rational one.
“I want people to have the facts,” said Hyatt. “The only way for a voter to become informed is to learn the facts.”
McGlew also wanted to make it clear that Kern Valley Hospital is a public hospital, meaning it is owned by the community and not by any private entities.
“This is your hospital,” said McGlew.
He also reiterated that the hospital is the biggest employer in the valley, and if it were to close down, that would not only put many individuals out of work, it would also negatively impact the property value of the surrounding communities.
“We need to look at the big picture here,” said McGlew. “Look at what happens here if the hospital is not around.”