SIHD voters will decide hospital’s fate on April 10
After several weeks of community workshops on Measure J held throughout the Southern Inyo Hospital District, the fate of SIH will be decided in the April 10 special election by mail-in ballot.
If approved by two-thirds of voters, Measure J will add an additional $215 parcel tax to all property in the SIH District for the next 15 years. It would raise residential property tax from $150 per year to $365. Undeveloped parcels, which currently pay a parcel tax of $50, would pay $265, while commercial parcels, which currently pay $550, will pay $765.
Supporters hope that the parcel tax will allow Southern Inyo Hospital to recover from bankruptcy and remain open, arguing that the hospital supports 90-100 jobs. Those jobs, supporters say, provide economic benefit to local businesses. They also claim that having a hospital in the District improves local property values. If the
hospital workers at SIH lose their jobs, some residents fear that workers will move out of the area, taking their families with them, which will undermine the school population and result in less education money from the state.
The hospital also provides preventative health care services, a skilled nursing facility and ready access to an emergency room.
However, a sizeable and vocal group of property owners oppose Measure J. Opponents feel that conditions that have resulted in three bankruptcies in the last 10 years have not changed. They are also unhappy that alternatives were not explored.
The total liability and debt owed to SIHD’s creditors is largely unknown, because the bankruptcy proceeding, filed in January by the District, is not yet completed. It appears to be at least $7 million, although Measure J opponents claim it is likely much more. Final costs would be determined by settlements negotiated by the District with its creditors. This includes claims against the District by former hospital management company Health Care Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) and by the Tulare Regional Medical Center.
According to the District’s attorneys, Scott Neve and Ashley McDow, if approved, the bankruptcy plan will halve the number of approved claims. If it is not approved, creditors can demand full payment, file lawsuits, and even take possession of hospital equipment and other assets.
Opposition to Measure J is largely coming from voters in areas outside of the communities of Independence and Lone Pine (such as Darwin, Olancha, Keeler, Charleston View, Tecopa, Shoshone and neighboring communities in Death Valley). The communities in the far eastern part of Inyo County point out that they reside several hours away from the hospital in Lone Pine and go to Ridgecrest or Pahrump, NV for their medical needs, but are still forced to support SIHD. Several residents of Independence and Lone Pine also spoke at the community workshops, and said that they prefer going to Northern Inyo Hospital in Bishop.
Even if Measure J is approved, it will provide no guarantee that the hospital will remain open. The tax parcel increase was needed, according to the SIHD Board, to prove to the judge overseeing the hospital’s bankruptcy, Frederick E. Clement, that the District has the means to pay off its current and future creditors and come up with a credible business plan to continue operations. Clement gave SIHD more time to put the tax increase measure on the ballot, noting that, if it is not approved, the hospital will most likely have to be closed.
If Measure J does not pass, the skilled nursing facility (with 27 residents) would have to close. SIHD’s emergency department is the only one for a 135-mile stretch between Bishop and Ridgecrest. SIHD also operates a rural health clinic with telemedicine service, and provides examinations and physicals. SIH is also an acute care critical access hospital with three beds.
At the community workshops, the SIHD Board promised to provide quality care and partnerships with Northern Inyo Hospital, which supports Measure J, to provide the services of specialists at the Lone Pine facility.
Supporters warn that, if Measure J fails and the bankruptcy case is dismissed, there is no alternative plan. There is concern that there are not enough volunteer EMT resources in the District to provide multiple ambulance runs if a patient must be sent to Bishop or Ridgecrest.
Many of the Measure J’s opponents say that it is unfair that property owners in the less affluent communities in southern Inyo County must pay the same amount of parcel tax while receiving little or nothing in the way of service. They also point out that a loss of jobs would likely have no impact on their remote communities.
According to the Inyo County Registrar of voters, new residents and unregistered voters can cast a provisional ballot until April 10 at the County Election office. Ballots must be postmarked by April 10 and received no later than three days after the election. The County offices will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on April 10 and are located at 168 N. Edwards St. in Independence. For more information on voter registration & voting by mail, phone 760. 878.0223.