By Helen S. DuVernay

This is longer than I intended. I wanted to be precise and factual because it is difficult to describe observing the constant cat and mouse game between the Del Norte Healthcare District board (HCD) and Sutter Coast Hospital representatives attending the healthcare district meetings.

I often imagine what discussions at Sutter Coast Hospital must be like, as to whose turn it is to go this time. I wonder if maybe it goes so far as to drawing straws, or maybe just someone pulling rank, for the duty of being the one on the spot at the healthcare district meeting.

After the agenda was completed for the Nov. 27 HCD meeting, it was announced that a proposal from the Sutter Coast Hospital board had just come in two hours before. It was noted that there was “no way” it could be added to the agenda because all discussion needed to be in the open and it was not agendized. An additional comment was made that the HCD required that topics to be discussed to be both “productive and open to the public.”

With the double emphasis on open to the public, it began to seem like the letter was anything but that.

Sutter Coast board members pointed out that there were no specifics in the letter to discuss. The letter was about continuing the prior discussion to form a working group to plan recruitment and hiring of a psychiatrist for the area. There was no Sutter Coast proposal in the letter since it would be best to determine a plan together with Del Norte County Mental Health and the healthcare district, rather than start with just a Sutter Coast proposal. Mental health could not fund a mental health nurse on its own now, for the Crisis Stabilization Unit that was at the hospital.

The healthcare district board continued the discussion, commenting that the hospital ended the mental health nurse. Ellie Popadic, Sutter Coast director of Ancillary Services and Business Development, corrected the statement from the HCD, noting that Sutter Coast Hospital did not just end it. It was a county service, and the county could not afford to continue to fund it. It was a misstatement to say that Sutter Coast ended it.

The HCD chair (Dr. Gregory Duncan) then commented that the HCD was interested in being kept informed by the working group, and wanted an update on it at the next meeting on Dec. 18, repeating yet again that the HCD board wants the Sutter Coast board to bring a proposal that was “productive and open to the public.” The Sutter Coast board members present kept trying to point out it was better that any proposals come from a group approach, rather than a proposal just from Sutter Coast.

After listening to 10 minutes of this circular discussion with no end in sight, I decided to leave because I had better things to do. Earlier in the meeting, a letter from (Sutter Coast CEO) Mitch Hanna was discussed, where Hanna declined to produce requested billing information because the HCD had a pattern of using information from the hospital to “besmirch” Sutter Coast’s reputation. The HCD Chair invited SCH hospital to provide concrete examples of this.

If anyone needed a more apt and immediate example of the HCD weaponizing anything Sutter Coast says, they need look no further than this final, non-agendized discussion initiated by the HCD Board, with their emphasis that the HCD insisted on everything open to the public, etc., because of a letter from the Sutter Coast board. The Sutter Coast board members present defended the letter in response, discussing the subject and intention of the letter.

The appropriate response to a letter received should have been to acknowledge receipt, without any innuendo, and to add that the letter would be placed on the next meeting agenda. Just that, and nothing more was needed. Thirty seconds, and then everyone could have gone home.

Helen S. DuVernay is a health care professional and lives in Crescent City.