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Mendocino County Today: March 9, 2013

UNION BUSTING WITH BANKRUPTCY

On Thursday, March 7, Coast Hospital CEO Wayne Allen issued the following press release. “Mendocino Coast Hospital Files Bankruptcy Motion To Reject Current Union Contract; To Seek Negotiations On A New Agreement Fort Bragg, California – March 7, 2013. Mendocino Coast District Hospital CEO Wayne Allen today announced that the hospital has filed a motion with the US Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of California, to reject the hospital’s contract with its employee union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, UFCW 8. The District’s motion is scheduled for a hearing before the Bankruptcy Judge on  Friday, April 12. ‘We can’t predict how the judge will rule,’ said Allen. ‘However, in anticipation of a ruling that will allow us to reject the current memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the union, I am planning to contact UFCW 8 representatives and request they enter into negotiations to develop a new MOU before the April 12 court hearing.’ Allen would not discuss what issues might be included in the union-hospital negotiations or speculate on a potential outcome. He noted that the motion to reject the current hospital-union MOU is part of a multi-part bankruptcy plan, which includes re-negotiating debt with major creditors, like United Healthcare, to bring debt and expenses in balance with revenue. ‘It’s critical for the hospital’s survival,’ he added. ‘My hope is to negotiate terms for a new MOU with the union as soon as possible,’ said Allen, who has established a debt reduction goal of at least $3.6 million, which is the projected loss for the current fiscal year ending June 30. Over the past week, Allen met with nearly 100 employees to answer questions and explain the hospital’s debt problem. ‘At our employee forums, people were very attentive and asked good questions,’ said Allen. ‘I was as forthright as possible about our situation. … At the forums on Wednesday of this week, I also alerted them that more parts of our bankruptcy plan would be unveiled in the next few days so they wouldn’t be surprised. The petition to reject the union-hospital memorandum of understanding is part of the plan I alluded to in those meetings.’ The District is still hopeful it can exit from bankruptcy by June 30, 2013, according to Allen.”

SOURCES INSIDE COAST HOSPITAL say that the hospital’s attorney, John Ruprecht, believes it will take at least two years for the hospital to “exit from bankruptcy.” But that may depend on how “exit from bankruptcy” is defined. CEO Allen considers himself an expert in bankruptcy, having converted other publicly-owned hospitals to private for-profit operations at other of his previous stops as Chief Financial Officer. Given the union’s strong rejection of pay and benefit cuts in the past unless they are part of a larger reduction including agreements that management and doctors share the pain, it’s not likely that UFCW 8 will agree to whatever “new MOU” negotiations Allen may have in mind, which we presume Mr. Allen has made his thinking clear. His press release basically says, “make concessions with me or I’ll turn it all over to the bankruptcy court which will force concessions on you.”

ALLEN’S MOU-BUSTING MOTION comes on the heels of last month’s announcement that the hospital was firing 12 full-time employees which Allen said at the time would “not compromise patient quality and or safety.” But medical staff in the hospital says that such reductions clearly do affect “patient quality or safety” because the night shifts are down to minimum staffing for the hospital’s 18 acute care beds with no nursing aides or assistants, meaning it's up to nurses alone to handle the mostly elderly patients who fall out of bed and otherwise suffer emergencies requiring much attention and/or clean up.  HOWEVER, it’s hard to see how a few concessions from the employees will solve the hospital’s overall financial problem. The biggest creditor is the state of California (aka Cal-Mortgage), to whom the hospital owes something like $14 million in long-term debt. Reportedly, CEO Allen wants to jettison this debt by having the bankruptcy judge declare it “unsecured,” meaning that it goes to the very back of the line in whatever bankruptcy settlement payback arrangements end up being made either in June of 2013 or June of 2015. The judge is not likely to approve indefinite repay agreements. (And Cal-Mortgage obviously isn’t going to eat $14 million. The big bill will very likely stay on the hospital’s primary secured creditor list, meaning that “emerging from bankruptcy” will be much more difficult, even with employee concessions.

GIVEN THIS BACKGROUND, and Mr. Allen’s occasional references in the hospital’s corridors to “liquidation,” the speculation among hospital staff now becomes whether or not Adventist Health, which runs Mendo’s only two other hospitals, and which is investing millions of dollars in large capacity increases in its for-profit operations in Willits and Ukiah, will pick up Coast Hospital for pennies on the dollar by assuming whatever’s left of their debt after the bankruptcy process is over. If that happened, Coast Hospital would probably be reduced to more of an intake-screening operation to funnel paying patients needing actual hospitalization to their newly expanded Willits and Ukiah facilities, leaving Coast Hospital as more of a stripped down clinic and emergency care branch office than a full-service “hospital.”

COAST HOSPITAL is one of only three remaining publicly-owned hospitals in all of California, the rest having been privatized as medicine and medical insurance move more and more into cash-cows for its shareholders and away from its primary mission of providing health care to all people regardless of their ability to pay.

ALLEN’S insistence on taking the Hospital through bankruptcy — backed by his credulous board of directors which fired former CEO Hino without even giving Hino’s practical non-bankruptcy plans a try — pretty much forecloses other options such as 1. renegotiating reduced contracts with part-time doctors who are not bringing in enough patients to justify all the hospital costs they demand (i.e., admin, nursing, malpractice insurance, and the rest of the hospital’s overhead), 2. issuing new bonds, and/or 3. going to the hospital district’s voters for an increase in the parcel tax proposal to save the popular little public hospital from becoming just another tentacle of Mendocino County's Adventist octopus.

ANOTHER SIGN that Allen is more interested in bankruptcy and liquidation than in recovery, is the administration’s continued failure to fix their ongoing billing problems, problems which the hospital’s accounting staff have pointed out several times. Fixing them would require that administration impose requirements on their contract doctors to make sure that all billable services are properly documented. (One problem that has been pointed out to us is when a patient is scheduled for routine or elective surgery the doctors refuse to itemize the pre-op steps and connect them to the surgery — blood tests, EKGs, x-rays, MRIs, and other tests to make sure a patient can handle the surgery — designating them as simply “pre-op” which are not billable to the insurance agency as part of the surgery itself.)

AT THE RATE THEY’RE GOING, the hospital’s core medical care functions will be strangled as experienced older staffers quit or retire, pay and benefits are cut or eliminated for everyone else, further cuts in capacity are made (there’s already talk of reducing the number of acute care beds to reduce the number of staff nurses needed), and capital equipment upgrades and acquisitions come to a halt. Once that gutting takes place, what’s left of Coast Hospital will be easy pickings for Adventist.

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AN AS YET unidentified woman believed to be responsible for the Fircrest apartment complex fire early Monday morning was being evicted, according to Detective Sgt. Jason Caudillo of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office. Caudillo said the woman is 25 and — hold onto your non-flammable hats — may have been responsible for 13 (count ‘em) fires at the apartment complex since October, including the one that earlier this week destroyed eight units and displaced more than 20 people. The same woman is also believed to have been involved in several fires at two different apartment complexes in Merced. In each case, there was not enough evidence to make an arrest, Caudillo said.

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THE ONGOING REHAB SAGA of Ukiah’s Palace Hotel, once Mendocino County’s grandest is, well, ongoing. There have been all manner of, as the libs say, issues with the stately and long abandoned structure in the center of town, ranging from who exactly owns it to an authorized asbestos contractor to begin work on the place. It has now apparently been established that the premises are owned by Unique Properties, and a Marin County woman named Eladia Laines is authorized to speak for Unique. Ms. Laines seems rather unique herself, once claiming that a mysterious team of female vandals had hacked into the Palace from the roof and had done some additional damage to the old hotel.

LAST WEDNESDAY, according to the Ukiah Daily Journal’s Justine Frederickson, “The [Ukiah City] council discussed whether to keep the building on its list of goals for the coming fiscal year, which included ‘Determine the city's future role related to long term vacancy of (the) Palace Hotel.’

TO WHICH COUNCILMAN BALDWIN responded, “I think it's going to get demolished unless the city participates in its ownership, so I don't think it can be a significant priority for this year. We should bring in the wrecking ball, or look into (the options we have) to borrow the money and invest, because I'm convinced now that 70% of the citizens want it saved.”

PEOPLE do indeed want the Palace restored, but even restored — and it would take lots of money the city doesn’t have to bring it back to even a semblance of its lost glory — it’s unlikely to be economically viable.

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IN OTHER NEWS from the County seat, Ukiah Police Chief Chris Dewey said his department is beset by a “homeless influx” whose violent minority forces the cops to make several arrests a day.

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SPY ROCK MEMORIES: THE BOOK

By Larry Livermore

So I guess it’s now official: the book I’ve been working on for more years than I care to remember will finally be coming out this June on Don Giovanni, and if you thought Don Giovanni was a record label, well, yeah, they are, and a very good one, but they’re now branching out into publishing. So hopefully you’ll buy my book, or else they might start thinking that publishing books wasn’t such a good idea after all, and in these days, we don’t need people thinking things like that.

Some of you have been reading a preliminary version of Spy Rock Memories here on the website (or in the AVA) as it was being written. Out of consideration for my publishers, I’ve now taken all but the first chapter down, since I want to give them at least a fighting chance of being able to sell copies of the book. Also, although the basic format and story line remains the same, every chapter has been substantially, and in some cases completely rewritten since it first appeared. Chapter 1, which you can still read on the website (http://larrylivermore.com/), is the original, not the rewritten version.

SpyRockBookI’m especially excited about the cover art, which was done by my niece, the wonderful, amazing, luminously talented Gabrielle Bell, who, though she was born in London, grew up on Spy Rock. The house portrayed on the cover is where I lived, and where Gabrielle often visited as a child. As crazy, maddening and bizarre as Spy Rock life could be, there must have been something in that mountain air or water (or maybe it was just the vibes, man), because out of that remote canyon, home to only an intrepid handful of back-to-the-landers, ranchers, outcasts and misfits, came at least two certified geniuses, Gabrielle being one and Grammy-winning drummer Tre Cool being another.

There were others, too, certifiable if not certified, and as those of you who’ve read some of the previews or have had the privilege to spend time on Spy Rock yourself will know, it’s an amazing and unique place, in some of the best and worst possible ways. Living there was easily the most formative experience of my life, and I can say without hesitation that everything I’ve done since my arrival on Spy Rock at the beginning of the 1980s has been colored, shaped, and, really, made possible by what went on in those mountains up on the back of beyond.

As I’ve heard many writers say, there comes a point with any piece of work where you just want it to be done and out before the public so you can move on to the next project, but at the same time, there’s a tendency to cling to it, to rewrite and re-think every aspect of it. And even once it is done and on its way to the printer, it’s possible – even probable – that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “Oh no, I totally forgot to write about ____” Believe me, I’ve had more than a few of those moments.

I also had to give careful consideration to how much or how little information to reveal about people who were part of my story, whether as friends, neighbors, or family members, and who may not be as thrilled to be in a book as I was to write about them. In the end, if I erred, it was on the side of caution. So I did have to leave out some stories that would have certainly helped sell books and entertain the masses, but maybe don’t need to be in print for anyone and everyone to see. In many cases, I don’t even give people’s names at all, which, if you’re familiar with Spy Rock culture (or the tale of the posse of pot growers who showed up on my driveway threatening to burn down my house if I kept writing about the area in my magazine), you’ll know is probably exactly how they’d like it.

Taking all that into account, though, I still think it’s a pretty good read. Rolling Stone and other music-oriented media are naturally focusing on the Lookout Records and Green Day connection (it was, contrary to the Rolling Stone story, in the remote mountains of Mendocino County, not at Gilman Street, where I first met and saw Green Day), but although both those things play a significant part in the story, it’s not a music book per se. In fact, the bulk of it focuses more on a hapless city slicker (that would be me) who bumbles his way into the wilderness without the faintest clue of how to survive there, and has to learn for the first time in his life to take care of and be responsible for himself.

I went to the mountains, as I note in the book, in search of something “real.” There was plenty of that, to be sure, but I found a hefty dose of wildly improbable unreality as well, some of which I’m still trying to digest all these years and miles down the road. It’s a sunny late-winter morning here in Brooklyn, somebody outside is pointlessly revving up his engine and the overly loud hum of the refrigerator and the various clicks and beeps and flashing lights of 21st century technology remind me just how far I’ve wandered from those solar-powered days where the loudest sounds on most mornings came from buzzing insects and the occasional pine cone dropping onto the roof.

Being wrapped up in writing about Spy Rock these past couple years has been like a form of time travel, enabling me to experience that life again, minus the life or sanity-threatening consequences that sometimes came with it. It’s come in a way to haunt me, to make me desperately nostalgic for a time and a place that I can’t and probably wouldn’t want to go back to. It’s been quite a journey, but I’m glad the time has come to move on. I do hope you’ll read my book, because I’ve already started writing another one, and you wouldn’t want my publishers to be disappointed in me, would you?

 

A HUMBLE HOME FOR ONE: Microhouse made from recycled materials goes on sale for $1,200 (just don't invite too many friends round).

HH1A new home could be yours for a snip at $1,200 — just don't expect too much space. The little cabin was built by carpenter Derek Diedricksen as a micro office and a camp shelter.

Named the Gypsy Junker, it is 32 square feet with a roof height of almost six feet.

Built three years ago, it is made out of shipping pallets, castoff storm windows and discarded kitchen cabinets.

What it lacks in bricks and mortar it makes up in durability — it has survived two hurricanes in the three years since it was built.

The structure, which has three windows, weighs about 800 pounds and has a sleep platform that doubles as a desk.

It loosely resembles a gypsy wagon and although it does have wheels, any prospective owner would need a flatbed trailer to move their new home.

Mr. Diedricksen, who built it for his Tiny Yellow House Program, seems reluctant to part with his creation as he explains on Tiny House listings.

“I actually don’t want to part with this so much, but my yard is so small, and I need to make way for a few new micro-architecture projects I’m working on (houseboat, tiny house on wheels), and another one or two that I’d like to start soon,” he wrote. “The money from this sale will be channeled directly into those projects. It also took an insanely long time to build this, and more to find the needed materials, one piece at a time, so I think the price is far more than fair, considering.”

HH2Assembled in his backyard, the carpenter has built portable shelters ranging in size from just four to 32 square feet.

“I’ve always been obsessed with tiny architecture. For my 10th birthday, my father gave me a book, ‘Tiny Houses,’ by Lester Walker, an architect,” he told the New York Times.

When he was growing up in Connecticut, he built a backyard shed where he played computer games along with countless forts and tree houses.

(Courtesy, the Daily Mail of London)

HH3

One Comment

  1. John Sakowicz March 9, 2013

    If I can get guests to speak on-air, my next show on March 22, at 9 am, on KZYX, will be about the Coast Hospital bankruptcy.

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