February 9, 2007

Focus on Community:

Health Care and the South Bay

By Patty Chavez

How utterly shameful, that a prosperous country such as the United States is the only developed nation in the world who cannot offer a basic service like medical care for everyone. Oh, there are many that blame – and are great at pointing the finger — but the bickering never results in any solutions. And at the helm of the debates you always find those who spew rhetoric - blaming the poor, the uneducated, and the immigrant — to hide their own short-comings: a failure to offer a basic service that is socially and morally the right thing to do.

The health care debate has been waging for years — this crisis is not new. As the economy declines and the environment deteriorates, the number of ill and uninsured climbs. Even the lucky ones — those with a coveted medical card — are feeling the crunch in the emergency rooms. The issue is coming to our own back yard. Paradise Valley Hospital may soon cease to exist as the County’s single largest health care provider for our neighborhoods that need it the most.

Here is the short of it: Adventist Health, the non-profit agency that runs the 301-bed non-profit Paradise Valley Hospital, announced to the surprise and shock of community and political leaders alike, the possible sale of this 102-year institution to for-profit Prime Healthcare Services, Inc. There is fear that Prime Healthcare will not offer charitable services as it currently does. Worse, the hospital could be closed, sold, dismantled, and turned into something more profitable for the new owners.

The hospital and its clinics, which help many of our under or uninsured, has been said to be losing millions in the past several years. A group of doctors, headed by Fred Harder, a former CEO of Paradise Valley Hospital, has submitted a counter offer to buy the hospital and keep it in tack. The final say will go to California Attorney General Jerry Brown who held one measly community meeting in National City last week. The standing room only meeting started at 1 p.m. and ran well into the evening.

There are many serious and complicated issues associated with the preservation of this health care facility. But how many of us understand the seriousness this can pose to all of our health needs? Why should those with health insurance care? Why should residents North of I-8 take notice?

Here is the simple truth: the un-insured and under-insured are the hard working service folk who keep our communities running. They don’t qualify for Medicare/Medicaid so they cross their fingers in hopes of not getting ill. Their children have higher rates of asthma that requires preventative care. However, there is no such thing as preventative care for this group. They can’t afford the cost and they can’t afford to miss work. They must wait until health problems become a full blown crisis before treatment can be sought.

Economically speaking, this means a loss of work hours impacting local businesses. This means a loss of wages for families already struggling. This means a cycle of health related issues and more visits to emergency rooms. This means loss of school time for children and an impact on education.

And for those of us with precious medical insurance — this means a crunch at the emergency rooms. By law, and a human moral obligation if you ask me, all people have a right to seek care. Our South Bay facilities are already running at capacity. Take out Paradise Valley and you may find you or your loved ones being sent north — a much longer drive for potentially life saving treatment.

And to our North County counterparts, here is the domino effect. There is no magic boundary at I-8. It will be an inconvenience and hardship to have to drive to North County for medical attention but it will be done. North County health care facilities will feel the crunch.

Many families today cannot afford healthcare. Premiums have risen six times more than the average increase in incomes. That is why almost 7 million Californians, including almost a million children, do not have health care. According to the California Health Care Foundation, Latinos represent more than half of California’s uninsured and are much more likely to be uninsured than any other ethnic group.

The health care debate will be a big issue in the 2008 Presidential Elections, but today it is a pending tragedy for South Bay residents. We may have just been given a one day forum, but you still have a chance to let our Attorney General hear from you. It is not too late to stand up for a basic human right. Make your voice known.

Contact the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry unit at 1-800-952-5225 or Deputy Attorney General Wendi Horwitz at wendi.horwitz@doj.ca.gov or by telephone at (213) 897-2178. Or call your local representatives to help you send along your message. National City: 619-336-4526; Chula Vista: 619-619-5044; San Diego District 8 Councilman Ben Hueso, (619) 236-6688.

Here is your chance to make a difference.

Email Patty Chavez at Patty.Chavez@covad.net

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