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Mendocino County Today: August 11, 2012

COAST HOSPITAL STAFF told the Hospital Board at its July 26th meeting that the 3% raise agreed to in their existing contract which was recently reinstated when the employees’ union lawyer wrote a letter to the hospital saying not paying it was a possibly illegal “unilateral” action, will cost about $650,000. In “return,” the union will “work with” Hospital management to lift Coast from fiscal peril, perhaps by reducing their employee health insurance costs.

WE’VE ALWAYS WONDERED why the Hospital can’t provide at least some healthcare to their own employees without routing care through a private insurance that Coast has to pay the usual exorbitant middleman fee to. Whenever we bring this question up we’re told that it’s not an option because insurance companies won’t cooperate. The contradiction that a Hospital can’t provide healthcare to its own employees without an insurance company taking a rake off is probably the best indicator of how screwed up US healthcare/health insurance is these days.

HOSPITAL CEO Ray Hino told the Board late last month that he was “very pleased” that the union was willing to discuss healthcare benefits. “I feel it is our best opportunity to work together between our hospital, major creditors and labor union to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement that will allow us to resolve some of our financial issues.”

“MAJOR CREDITORS,” besides the employees, would be doctors, equipment and service providers and pharmaceutical companies. Exactly how the Hospital will “work with” them is unclear, although in the past Hino has said that he intended to review the Hospital’s contractual arrangements with its physicians. The fact that there has been no report of any savings in those contracts probably means that the doctors have not cooperated in solving the Hospital’s “financial issues.” The equipment suppliers historically have not been willing to reduce their charges, but sometimes they will allow the Hospital to delay payments. And Pharmaceutical companies? Don’t ask.

ACCORDING to Coast Hospital’s financial manager, Wayne Allen, total revenues are up a bit from last year but costs — including the aforementioned health insurance for employees — rose more than revenues by several million dollars with the imbalance expected to continue. Why? Inpatient admissions have decreased, a nice way of saying that more and more people don’t have insurance and can’t afford hospitalization, pharmaceutical sales are down because people can’t afford as much medication, and Medicare reimbursements are expected to decrease.

THE PICTURE IS GRIM for Mendocino County's only publicly-owned medical center. The Hospital Foundation, a fundraising non-profit that provides occasional infusions of cash might produce some more money but Mendocino County's countless array of non-profits are, at this point in our imploding economy, competing for a disappearing donor base. No one is talking about a new bond issue or a ballot measure to increase the Hospital District’s parcel fee, an option often discussed a few years ago when the Hospital faced a budget gap arising from profligate management practices. Perhaps in the present economic climate, management has calculated that an increase in the Hospital's parcel tax would be unlikely to pass, although voters approved a small boost in local taxes to fund the much less crucial CV Starr Rec Center.

MENDOCINO COUNTY regularly bemoans its lack of any discretionary money for such things as adequate adult mental health services at the County Jail, to name one service we're doing without that ultimately drives up public costs to everyone.

BUT THERE ALWAYS SEEMS to be plenty of public money for more bureaucrats, and assistant bureaucrats. On Tuesday, the Supervisors are poised to approve a $66,000 job for an assistant to their recently hired Retirement Administrator, Richard White, a retired Orange County Sheriff’s sergeant and former bigwig with the State Association of Retirement Systems. Mendo's great Retirement Administrators of yesteryear did without assistants.

SGT. WHITE, with the approval of his captive Retirement Board, thinks that even though Mendocino County is broke and the County’s Retirement System has lost tens of millions in total value and investment returns, he needs the County to pay someone $66k a year to “prepare and maintain reports such as annual financial statements, the annual Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR), and annual State Controller’s Office report; coordinate with the independent financial auditor; monitor investments; assist the Retirement Administrator with development of financial and accounting policies and procedures; etc.”

WHICH READS like came directly from Sarge's own job description, the one that pays him something like $165k a year plus the usual generous array of perks, a pay package that comes on top of whatever retirement he’s already drawing as a retired cop.

AND YOU THOUGHT you were paying too much for former Retirement Administrator Jim Andersen? (You were, of course.) ANDERSEN, natch, is still on the County’s payroll too, but as a “consultant/advisor” to Sarge. Calling John Sakowicz! Calling Ted Stevens! Calling Deputy Craig Walker. Whazzup with this? State Parks and Recreation?

THE MOTHER OF ALL SCREW JOBS is underway in Gualala. To simplify without over simplifying, when the highly popular Bones Road House and Restaurant burned down in September of 2009, Bones, aka Mike Thomas, had a liquor license he’d leased from the family of Eric Price.

THE FIRE, to put it gently, was suspicious, and it became even more suspicious when Eric Price, funded by his wealthy parents, built his own restaurant on the site of, you could say, Mike Thomas’s Bones. You could also say that Price’s restaurant and the accompanying motel he erected are as unpopular with locals as Price is himself. Locals are critical of everything from the food at Price’s Shoreline Restaurant to the architectural aesthetics of the thing. And then they assess Price’s unfortunate personality, which South Coast people characterize as rude, arrogant, ruthless, and at least partly chemically enhanced in a way that doesn’t make Price, a veteran of drug and alcohol rehab programs, any more beguiling.

MIKE THOMAS is a long-time resident of the area. He's highly popular with locals not only for his personal charm but for the quality of his enterprise. He’s also one of these essential community guys who quietly does a lot of good for people apart from employing 23 of them. The South Coast is unanimously in support of Thomas and hopping mad that he's clearly the victim of, in Thomas's description, “a demon.”

THOMAS managed to get a new Bones Road House and Restaurant up and running only to be slowly garroted by Price who clearly resents the popularity of Thomas’s revived business, which is in direct competition with Price's, especially for local business upon which local businesses depend, especially in the non-tourist winter months.

Bones Roadhouse, Gualala

WHEN THOMAS RE-BOOTED BONES, Price said Thomas’s liquor license had reverted to him and his parents. Logic would indicate that the license went on hold while Thomas re-built. But Price insisted the license had reverted to his family. He went to court and somehow won a judgment against Thomas, a very large judgment which, with the usual attorney's fees, interest and mysterious add-ons, has driven the judgment from $80,000 to $214,842.98. That amount is impossible for Thomas to pay. That amount would be difficult for most Mendo businesses to pay, impossible for Thomas as he rebuilds after that Price-convenient fire put Thomas out of business in 2009.

VIA A THUGGISH LEGAL STRATAGEM called a “Keeper's Levy,” good for eight-hour periods on a day-to-day basis, a posse of deputized till tappers has twice now swooped down on Bones and grabbed all the money in the till, $529 on their initial raid, another $430 the next day. Price is rumored to observe the badged till tappers as they looted his rival’s business in a way that's designed to put Thomas out of business, not recover money owed.

IF THESE “KEEPER'S LEVY” RAIDS on Bones continue on a regular basis, Thomas will be put out of business, which would suit Price just fine. To that end Price's Keeper of the Levy has court-ordered Thomas's books and bank records. Price just might wind up with the guy's shoes and socks.

COULD MENDOCINO COUNTY be fracked? And if it were fracked, what the frack would it be fracked for? Since most of the County is owned by either the Mendocino Redwood Company or the government, these two entities would own the rights to most of whatever's down there. And what is down there? Way back there were some smallish copper mines, one of them lying in the canyon between the Feliz Creek headwaters and Yorkville's Y Ranch. But that was surface mining. In Covelo there was some rock (jade?) and coal mining done by Italian nationals before World War Two, hence a few Indians named Gino and Carlo. We know that there are hot water springs here and there which, I suppose, might be tapped for energy as they are at the Geysers in Lake County. But Mendo's hot water springs seem awfully small compared to the whole area of them in Lake County. And we know there are oil deposits in the Pacific vastness off Point Arena and Elk. But those deposits aren't commercially attractive, are they?

WHEN I ASKED former Supervisor Norman deVall about what might lure large-scale extractive interests to Mendocino County, he replied, “The most interesting map I ever saw in the Planning Department was of the County showing hot water springs. The Anderson Valley is ringed with warm water sources. Add to that the Manchester Anticline just to the west and that the largest limestone deposit (limestone=cement) in California is on the Greenwood-Philo Ridge Road and you have the next economic era. I have no doubt that we're on top of ‘natural’ gas fields and hydro-petroleum. A few years ago I met up with some petro geologists chipping away at the cliff edge in Point Arena Cove who showed me what they were looking for: oil. During WWII Atlantic-Richfield drilled for oil at Point Arena and developed a producing well. But history has it that it was so laden with sulfur that it wasn't put into production. I've also heard that oil deposits have been found leeching into Wages and San Juan Creeks on the northcoast. We would do well to pass an anti-fracking initiative in the County.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “THE BOOK OF MORMON. The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases that quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James's translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel — half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern — which was about every sentence or two — he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as ‘exceeding sore,’ and ‘it came to pass,’ etc., and made things satisfactory again. 'And it came to pass' was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.” (— Mark Twain)

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