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150,000 people living along the San Andreas fault have no hospital

City weighing proposals for new hospital
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press July 16, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


PALMDALE - A new medical facility may be in the offing for Palmdale, but who builds it, as well as when and where, remain in question.
The fact that two local physicians groups have approached city officials to assist with constructing a private, for-profit facility was made public Wednesday night during a discussion between the City Council and representatives of Antelope Valley Hospital.

A member of one of the two physician groups, Dr. Abdallah Farrukh, said he and his colleagues consider 10th Street West and Avenue P-8 the best site for a facility, which would stand on its own financially.

Farrukh, the chief of the medical staff at AV Hospital, said building his group's facility would depend in part on assistance from the city in acquiring the land.

Only by producing income can a health-care facility afford to treat the area's indigent residents, who are not receiving emergency care from the county, he said.

"If you want a hospital to survive, it has to be on 10th Street (West)," Farrukh said. "That's my opinion."

City Manager Bob Toone said the second group of physicians has requested anonymity during the early phases of negotiation.

AV Hospital board member Deborah Rice contended Farrukh's site would be too close to the existing hospital in Lancaster and that a site further east would better serve south Valley medical needs.

A facility at 40th Street East and Palmdale Boulevard, where the hospital already owns land, could be operated successfully by a partnership between the AV Healthcare District, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and the city of Palmdale, Rice said.

Talks also are in progress for the use of resident-program physicians from the medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles, she said. Those physicians could erase part of the cost of their educations by working at the facility.

Hospital officials broke away from their own public meeting Wednesday to attend the City Council meeting because of council concerns over a letter sent by hospital Chief Executive Officer Mathew Abraham.

The letter suggested Palmdale take the lead in procuring the partnerships and funding for constructing and operating a south Valley hospital.

Members of the council bristled at the suggestion, with Mayor Jim Ledford stating it was AV Hospital's mission to take the lead in providing local health care, not the city's.

"I don't know of a city in this state that participates in the operation of hospitals, and I would challenge you to produce a city that does that," Ledford said, pointing out that Lancaster contributes nothing to the day-to-day operation of its three existing hospitals.

"We're going to be hard-pressed to go to our residents and say, `You're different. You're going to pay for the operation of your hospital,' " he said.

Hospital board Chairman Steve Fox said that while AV Hospital was built with tax money, that source of revenue is unavailable for a new facility because the public hospital district no longer is on the county's tax rolls.

The only money available for a new facility will come from revenues generated by the operation of the old hospital, Fox said, and that hospital needs an estimated $50 million in seismic repairs.

"But we see (millions) going to a skilled nursing facility in Lancaster. We're wondering where's ours?" Ledford said. "I don't want to make it inflammatory, but our residents deserve better than what they are getting."

After years of studies and promises by previous boards and hospital administrators, "The facility that we believe we need in the south Valley is yet to materialize," he said.

Fox said the current board has resolved to build such a facility and reiterated that since AV Hospital is prohibited by law from directly hiring staff physicians, they must be hired by the county or lured through other incentives.

Efforts are under way to arrange for staffing from the county, Fox said, pointing out that earlier staffing agreements made it possible to open the joint-venture primary-care clinics in Palmdale, Lake Los Angeles and Littlerock.

Abraham said his letter to the council was intended to encourage the city to do all in its power to attract physicians, investors and other third parties who could help bring a south Valley facility to fruition.

Fox invited the members of the council to participate in a joint public meeting with the hospital's board to lay out a plan of cooperation.

The council agreed to participate, but Ledford said the city "will continue to pursue viable alternatives, either with the district or without the district."

After the discussion, Toone said the city stood ready to support any effort, regardless of who moved forward first, but encouraged the district to continue its efforts regardless of any other parties involved.

"We're not pushing any particular site. We just want a hospital," he said.

"Ultimately, if we bring these doctors to the table, hopefully they'll come in as partners" in the overall effort, Toone continued. "They're not ready to come to the table to talk to the hospital yet."

Meanwhile, hospital officials "are still responsible that the proper medical facilities are provided to our residents," he said.

Abraham maintained that a true hospital-city partnership would include sharing information about any proposals brought forward.

"What I heard tonight was that they wanted to explore those options as well, which clearly tells me they are directing this project," he said.

Nevertheless, "We are willing to do our share with the city or with anybody else. We have said that since day one," he said.

Rice questioned the city's need for a quick solution, saying a new hospital on Palmdale's west side would do little to improve things for residents of the far east side.

"To me, it's about saving lives, it's not about politics" and arranging a hospital groundbreaking before November's City Council election, she said. "This is what I would like to ask the City Council: Are they looking for a private facility on 10th Street West with private physicians for private patients, or are they looking for a facility on 40th Street East that's run by the county that's going to meet the needs of all the community?"


Activists put pressure on for new hospital
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press August 28, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


LANCASTER - Palmdale resident Vi Hill on Wednesday threatened to return from the grave if that's what it will take to get a hospital built in her city.
"I don't want to wait for 2015 till you guys decide (to build), because I won't be around," said Hill, 85. "But when I die, my old ghost is coming back here and, everyone of you people, I'll pull at your cheek and let you know I'm still working."

For months, Hill has argued publicly in favor of construction of a hospital in the Palmdale area.

For years, she and other residents of Palmdale paid taxes to establish the health-care district that operates Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, Hill told the AV Hospital board of directors.

Those taxpayers deserve something besides long rides while in pain and hours of waiting for attention in that hospital's emergency room, she said.

"Get something started," Hill said. "Because you're going to wait too long and there's going to be lives lost."

In response, board chairman Steve Fox told Hill everyone on the panel agreed with that contention and that progress is being made toward establishing an emergency-care facility in the Palmdale area.

But Director Don Bean pointed out AV Hospital was created to treat patients Valleywide.

"There is no hospital district in the state of California that has two hospitals under its jurisdiction," Bean said.

No longer on the tax rolls, the district must enlist the aid of other entities - namely the city of Palmdale and the county of Los Angeles - to develop a facility in the south Valley, he said.

Developing the cooperation needed for the effort to proceed "is going to take more time than any of us are going to appreciate, but we're going to have to live within the system because it's the only one we've got," Bean said.

Meanwhile, "We are fulfilling our mandated requirement as a hospital district by operating the (Lancaster Community) hospital in the district," he said. "The problem is that it's a relatively large district, and people have identified a need for a second facility."

Plans for a joint meeting Wednesday between the hospital's board of directors and the Palmdale City Council fell apart because of prior commitments made by some members of the council.

The two public bodies will postpone their meeting until after a study on the market demand for an acute-care facility in the south Valley has been completed by the Camden Group of El Segundo.

The results of the $20,000 study, commissioned by Palmdale, should be disseminated within days, said Mathew Abraham, the hospital's chief executive officer.

Preliminary reports indicate the study has found a need for a hospital with 87 beds in the south Valley, Abraham said.

In documents delivered to the board, the Palmdale council reiterated its commitment to spend up to $2 million on infrastructure should the hospital build a facility on property it owns at 40th Street East and Palmdale Boulevard.

The council also reiterated its commitment to any builder to spend $1.2 million helping with the acquisition of land and with construction of nearby senior housing if another site is selected for a new hospital.

In its current budget, AV Hospital has earmarked $4 million for the construction of a south Valley facility. It already has invested $2 million in the land at 40th Street East and Palmdale Boulevard and will spend $500,000 planning a facility at that or another site.

The critical issue remains whether the county will commit the funds needed for the ongoing operation of the facility, which could cost millions of dollars annually, Bean said.

Hospital director Gary Hill, unrelated to Vi Hill, suggested future discussions include the possibility of having Palmdale use redevelopment money normally forwarded to the county to help fund the new hospital.

"Palmdale and the county can do the same thing that the city of Lancaster and the county have done to best utilize those local tax dollars for local benefit," he said.

Director Deborah Rice said she is continuing to work on a plan that would allow medical students to serve on the staff of the south Valley facility in return for reductions in their tuition.