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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023

North County Health Care Districts to Explore Collaboration

Two of North County’s three public hospital districts have opened up discussions of collaborating in hopes of saving money.

Leaders of Tri-City Healthcare District, an area that serves most of Oceanside, Vista and Carlsbad and operates Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, have agreed to meet with Palomar Pomerado Health officials to figure out ways of reducing rising health care costs. They have scheduled a meeting for March 2 at Tri-City, according to PPH.

Palomar Pomerado Health, an 800-square-mile health care district that operates the 107-bed Pomerado Hospital in Poway and 319-bed Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, has been looking at ways of controlling costs as it builds a $1 billion “hospital of the future” in Escondido.

Dr. Alan Larson, a member of the PPH board, said he supports the idea of merging the two hospital districts because each serves a similar purpose.

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“It’s always bothered me that we’re both working for the public,” he said. “Why should we be competitive?”

PPH spokesman Andy Hoang emphasized that discussions were preliminary and simply meant to open up dialogue between the two districts.

Nonetheless, the opportunity has rekindled notions of merging the two districts, something that has failed to gather support in the past. Larson said it makes more sense to merge the districts today amid current economic conditions.

But a merger of the two districts could spell disadvantages for taxpayers, said Escondido patent attorney Robroy Fawcett, an outspoken critic of PPH’s construction plans.

“I don’t see any reason to make these government entities any bigger and squeeze out other health care options,” he said. “We’re no longer rural communities struggling for hospital facilities. We’re urbanized areas struggling with hospital districts wanting to raise more taxes.”

PPH Board Chairman Bruce Krider, who broached the idea of sharing vendors to save money in a letter to Tri-City dated Feb. 11, placed the chances of a merger at “zero.”

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense because you can do most of the same things by friendly collaboration,” he said. “We don’t need to be able to have the mortgage of Tri-City’s to be able to work with them.”

Three Failed Attempts

After three failed attempts to get voters to pass bond measures that would have helped pay for state-required earthquake safety measures, Tri-City’s board is struggling to find adequate funding as it deals with ways to stop its escalating cost of debt, now estimated at $400,000 a month.

It is also reeling from an administrative upheaval. In December, the board abruptly placed the district’s top executives on administrative leave and hired a forensic auditor to serve as its interim chief executive while it investigated district finances.

Tri-City board members could not be reached for comment. Spokesman Jeff Segall declined to comment about whether the hospital would also consider privatization.

PPH is also struggling with cost-saving measures despite net incomes of $32.9 million in fiscal 2007 and $7.6 million last year. It has considered scrapping plans for a $68 million central power plant and other costly features for its planned Escondido hospital, including a rooftop helipad, healing gardens, outdoor stonework and community rooms.

It has also considered delaying expansion plans that call for a $110 million, five-story medical tower at Pomerado Hospital in Poway to save costs.

Krider said open dialogue between the two districts would encourage ways of working together in the future.

“It’s just banding together to see if there are some mutually beneficial programs and ventures that two hospitals can take advantage of,” he said.


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