Guest opinion: Sequoia Healthcare — the hospital district that won't diecTypeface:Bold>Editor's Note: Jack Hickey, a member of the board of the Sequoia Healthcare District, has for many years waged a losing battle to put the district out of business. District board chair Kim Griffin has a different opinion, and we present both sides here.
By Jack Hickey
The Sequoia Hospital District, also known as the Sequoia Healthcare District, built, owned and operated Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City until it was sold in 1996. The district is now engaged in frantic activities to justify its continued existence.
In 1946, petitions were circulated to establish a local hospital in southern San Mateo County. An election was called and voters approved the creation of Sequoia Hospital District as the vehicle. District boundaries were identical to the Sequoia High School District at the time. It was understood that there would be future bond issues to build and add to it. Property taxes were assessed by the county Board of Supervisors and the hospital was built. It opened in 1950.
The district got out of the hospital business after incurring a $29 million deficit. That led to a voter-approved bailout sale of the hospital in 1996 (Measure H), with "white knight" Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) buying the right to take over hospital operations. CHW assumed responsibility for debt repayment and pension plan funding.
The board of directors at that time sought to change the purpose of the district, which no longer owned a hospital, to include powers provided in recent health-care district law. Without an election as provided for by that law, the Sequoia Hospital District "morphed" into Sequoia Healthcare District and began engaging in philanthropic activity. Property taxes continue to be collected.
The 2001 county grand jury reviewed the district's newly assumed role and recommended that "the Sequoia Healthcare District should reduce property taxes for district taxpayers unless in a future election district voters approve expenditures for purposes not approved by district voters in the 1946 measure establishing the district or in 1996 Measure H."
The 2002 grand jury found: "...since the sale of the hospital the district has assumed a role similar to that of a philanthropic foundation. This is a function of the District that was never presented to the voters for their approval under 1996 Measure H."
In November 2002, I was elected to the Sequoia Healthcare District board of directors on a platform based upon the jury's findings. I was denied a seat on the Sequoia Health Services (SHS) board intended to provide a taxpayer oversight function for hospital operations.
In February 2003, SHS and the district were on a fast track to demolish Sequoia Hospital and rebuild near Highway 101. My referendum petitioning effort derailed that move, and a seismically sound major upgrade to Sequoia Hospital on the Whipple/Alameda site was agreed upon. Funding came from CHW, the Sequoia Hospital Foundation and the district. In 2007, CHW assumed complete ownership of the Sequoia Hospital campus, including the medical office building, with the district becoming a shareholder via a profit-sharing arrangement.
The district employs a CEO and executive assistant with payroll costs of more than $250,000 a year. Two stand-alone programs with directors and staff add $200,000 a year. These programs are:
• HeartSafe, which distributes automated electronic defibrillators (AEDs). While other states have mandated AEDs for all schools on a state level, California has required them only for privately owned health studios. This program is not a proper function of the district. Former Atherton chief of police Glenn Nielson was chosen as project manager.
•Healthy Schools Initiative ($4.5 million over three years), which subsidizes school district programs. School districts don't need district program managers and staff to tell them how to use the money.
The district has increased its so-called philanthropy and launched PR "branding" activities costing more than $100,000 a year.
The district grants $1.35 million a year to a health insurance program (which supports abortion on demand) for children with family incomes approaching five figures.
The district also uses its tax dollars to fund charitable organizations like St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room ($100,000) and Mission Hospice and Home Care ($35,000).
The district continues to support the CHW-owned hospital through grants to the Sequoia Hospital Foundation.
The district also provided $1 million a year to subsidize 40 nurses enrolled in a baccalaureate nursing program with no payback or "employment within the district" requirements. Nine nurses recently found employment in Palm Springs. The nurse's union should fund this program.
In my opinion, the Sequoia Healthcare District should be dissolved, with tax revenues dispersed among the public entities within the district boundaries.
Jack Hickey is a member of the Sequoia Healthcare District board.