Parcel tax proposed to keep Southern Inyo Hospital in operation
n March 5 and 12, the Independence Civics club and Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce held public meetings regarding Measure J.
Measure J would add an additional $215 annually per property parcel within the Southern Inyo Hospital District on top of the current general property tax, which is $50 per parcel. Additionally, the measure would add a tax of $100 per home. The additional tax would bring the parcel tax to $365 per property parcel, which comes to $1 dollar a day. The current parcel tax for commercial property is $500.
At the meetings, Southern Inyo Healthcare District Board (SIHD) provided information about the measure, which district residents will vote on in a Special Election to be held on April 10. If passed, the bond measure would nearly double the annual parcel tax for property owners in the Southern Inyo Healthcare District to keep Southern Inyo Hospital (SIH) operating. Both meetings were well-attended. The additional parcel tax would affect approximately 2,800 parcels in Southern Inyo County.
Southern Inyo Healthcare District has faced three bankruptcies over the last ten years, and Measure J has been met with great skepticism from many of the district’s voters.
Opponents are skeptical that the district will be able to avoid future bankruptcy even if Measure J is approved, as much of the proceeds from the increased parcel taxes will be used to prove to the current bankruptcy court that old creditors will be paid. Joy Wilson of Lone Pine, along with several other residents, flatly stated “I would hope it does not pass.” She said she drives to Bishop’s Northern Inyo Hospital for her medical care. She also feels the parcel tax places an unfair burden on those with modest-to-low incomes.
Alternatives? Not really…at least not yet
Opponents of the measure feel that alternatives should be explored such as an Urgent Care Facility or an enhanced Emergency Response System using highly-trained paramedics like the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in northern Mono County. They claim that there is no reason to expect any change in the circumstances which have led to past bankruptcies, such as a stagnant economy, loss of clients to other healthcare facilities because of the hospital’s failings, and a lack of many types of services, coupled with what they feel has been the repeated failure of past hospital management and hospital district board oversight.
According to SIHD, creating an Urgent Care facility would require a substantial investment. It would also, most likely result in the loss of the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) because state regulations require that an SNF have access to an emergency room and other hospital services. Additionally, ambulances cannot deliver patients to an Urgent Care.
An Urgent Care center, while far less expensive to operate than an emergency room at a hospital, is used for minor medical problems. An emergency room or department on the other hand, is where someone is taken, often by ambulance, when their life is at risk. An emergency room is much more expensive to operate than an Urgent Care
facility. They are also compensated much differently under government regulations, with emergency rooms receiving much higher reimbursement payments for the services they provide.
At the Lone Pine meeting, Vic Johnson suggested having a cannabis dispensary operate out of the hospital to generate revenue.
Supporters of the hospital point out that the hospital’s closure would have negative consequences for the local economy including the loss of jobs, patronage of local businesses, home values and the on the number of students in local schools. The hospital employs approximately 90 people, all of whom would be put out of their jobs. The hospital’s operational costs are $10 million a year in income and expenses, which, according to Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce CEO Kathleen New, would be a “huge, if not devastating, economic hit” to the community.
The revenue generated by Measure J’s parcel tax increase will largely be used to provide proof to the bankruptcy court judge that the SIHD board has the money to pay off its creditors and a sound business plan to keep the hospital open well into the future. According to the SIHD board, if Measure J is approved, $602,000 a year will be generated by the parcel tax over a 15-year period.