Health district has vital role in county

Steve Chittock

Coastal Voices Guest Opinion

Now that the election is over and we breathe a collective sigh of relief, I would like to thank my supporters for their vote, those who, win or lose, ran for public office and to each and every one of you who turned out to vote.

During the course of the campaign, the lack of awareness of the Del Norte Healthcare District disappointed me. Whether it was the very minimal coverage from the local media, the tendency of the of the district's directors to be very low-key about their actions or simply not knowing about the district simply does not matter. The district is an essential part of the Del Norte health-care system.

Formed in the 1940s as the Del Norte Hospital District, its purpose was

to operate the "County" hospital (formerly the Knapp Hospital). Seaside

Hospital was able to provide, expand and sustain quality medical

services to the Del Norte community until drastic changes to the

Medicare reimbursement system forced many small community hospitals to

close their doors.

Without the lease agreement with Sutter Health System in the mid-1980s,

Del Norte could very well have found itself without an acute care

hospital. With changes to state law, the district then became the Del

Norte Healthcare District. District assets included the property that

is now the Hampton Inn and the Del Norte Community Clinic on A Street.

After an extensive public process the properties were declared surplus

and sold. Those proceeds were applied to the new Del Norte Community

Wellness Center at Washington and Northcrest Drive.

As insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles and general health care

costs rose without accompanying earnings increases, employers, the

primary payer of health-care costs, found themselves unable to continue

to cover the costs involved. This shifted costs to employees and their

families. With the cost of insurance premiums in Del Norte, the highest

in the state, many found coverage unaffordable and were forced to apply

for coverage through state-funded programs (Medi-Cal).

Since use of the health-care system is unavoidable, when those without

adequate coverage access the system it is often only in the later

stages of the disease process. This can easily translate to the highest

cost. This scenario will only intensify with the recent cutbacks in the

Medi-Cal program. Those private providers who were still able to accept

Medi-Cal will now find it impossible to do so.

So now what? With 50 percent of the medical dollar in Del Norte coming

from Medicare and 25 percent from Medi-Cal and other federal, state and

local government sources (not an uncommon figure nationwide),

maximizing reimbursement from those sources is imperative. Providing

medical/dental/mental "homes" for children and families at an

affordable cost is absolutely necessary.

We can do this! Physician recruitment and retention, loan re-payment

programs, creation of the Del Norte Community Wellness Center, the

Children's Health Initiative, the children's dental program, the Family

Resource Center, Action Del Norte and the Community Health Alliance

are some examples of community problem solving. We have again proven to

ourselves that we can work together effectively. Please join with us in

providing quality, essential health-care services for the people of Del

Norte; it will take each and every one of us!

Clark Moore is a member of the Del Norte County Healthcare District Board of Directors.

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