Why Electing Jim Horn Will Doom Hospital District Board candidate has emerged as leading opponent to reopening

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(This post was originally published on October 30, 2014 at WaccoBB.net)

The 2014 Progressive Sebastopol Voter Guide, which I was part of creating, strongly endorsed Dennis Colthurst and Richard Powers for Palm Drive District Board, as the best candidates to reopen a hospital with an emergency room at Palm Drive. We believe that this contest, along with passing Measure M to solve the worst funding crisis in County Library history, are the two most important votes that citizens can cast in this election.

Our Voter Guide, included the following statement, which Jim Horn, as well as his lead backer in Sebastopol’s City Council, John Eder, have challenged us to support:

“Horn, who deceptively overstates the cost of reopening, has emerged as the leading opponent of re-opening an emergency room.

Horn speaks of supporting an “urgent care” alternative to an ER, but urgent care cannot, by law, accept ambulances or provide critically needed ER services that have saved lives in our community for generations.”

Horn and Eder’s objections are rooted in the fact that Horn, like every person running for public office in a community that has seen its life saving emergency room closed for the first time in 70 years, states that he, too, would like to “Open Our Hospital.”

But the evidence of Jim Horn’s many other words, and actions in this matter, speak a lot more clearly than this hollow statement. Electing Jim Horn’s will provide a continuation of a three person majority that history has demonstrated will torpedo any Foundation plan that is presented as “financially unviable.”

I am convinced that if Jim Horn is elected, the impressive plan by dozens of doctors, health experts, business leaders, and community volunteers that has emerged from six months of hard work will be voted down by the Palm District Board. Why?

Jim Horn continually undermines the reopening effort with misleading information that overstates the cost of reopening and inflates Palm Drive’s past losses.

Palm Drive Hospital closed on April 29, 2014. On May 7 a commentary by Jim Horn appeared in Sonoma West. Without mentioning in his column that there were any other reviews that differed from his, Horn wrote this about the hopelessness of keeping Palm drive open:“As a very small acute care hospital, it simply cannot compete with three major medical centers only a few miles away,”

Horn’s belief in the impossibility of a hospital succeeding has never wavered. This is what he wrote in his ballot statement:

“I support reopening Palm Drive Hospital, but only in a fiscally responsible and sustainable manner. I also support expanding health care services in our underserved River communities. However, we must face facts. The hospital lost $64 million in the last 13 years, and the District is in bankruptcy for the second time. Thehospital building is 40 years old and needs millions of dollars of repairs and upgrades.”

On October 14, at a Foundation meeting in the Guernville firehouse to build support for a reopening effort, Horn made the following public statement:

“So one of the considerations that I see is the hospital building is our greatest asset, it’s our only asset, really. And to get out of this bankruptcy, are we going to need to do better than a dollar a year in rent? Are we going to need to convert that asset into some cash so we can pay off employees, so we can pay of the other creditors? Nobody’s going to loan us the money this time. Nobody’s that stupid.”`

I have written before here and here about the Board’s misleading legal interpretation of how little legal power bankruptcy courts have over public agencies that are legally required to use tax revenues to operate essential services like hopsitals. For this post, let’s look at Jim Horn’s much repeated $64 million in losses claim.

The truth is that the hospital had only a $5 million loss on $272 million in revenue in the fiscal years from 2002 to 2013, the last full year of operations. This represents only 1.9% of revenue, a figure that could have and should have been managed by the hospital’s administration.

By Horn’s own recent admission here on Wacco (check out this thread in which he works to justify this inflated number) Horn includes $8.4 million in losses for unaudited 2014, most of which was due to the closure of the hospital, not from operations of the hospital.

Most importantly, the $64 million includes all $3.8 million or so in parcel taxes that taxpayers voted for, and paid, for each of the past 13 years.

Jim Horn’s deliberate and misleading inflation of the hospital’s losses serve one purpose: to undermine public confidence in the potential financial viability of the Foundation plan, and to provide political cover for Horn’s inevitable vote—should voters elect him– to kill the community’s only prospect of reopening an emergency room at Palm Drive.

There are two other reasons why I think Jim Horn will vote against any plan to reopen a hospital that contained an emergency room.

One is that Horn champions the “Bait and Switch” strategy of promoting a misunderstood “Urgent Care” substitution for an emergency room.

The third is that Horn continues the Hospital Board’s illegal pattern of secrecy, in violation of the Brown Act and the public trust.

For the hundreds of experts, business leaders and volunteers who are working to help restore an emergency room and hospital at Palm Drive, two challenges are paramount. One is convincing potential donors and the public that there is political consensus around the objective of reopening. In short: “Everyone wants to do this.” The second is that that failure is not the only option for Palm Drive: that with a compelling business model and the strong business management that has been lacking at the hospital for the past four years, we might succeed. In short: “We can do this.”

By inflating the financial challenges that reopening faces, Jim Horn’s public statements have deliberately undermined public confidence. I believe that he is doing this to justify the inevitable: that short of a billionaire signing a blank check to cover all losses for the rest of time, Jim Horn will inevitably find reasons to vote down any Foundation reopening plan that includes an emergency room because he deems it “financially unviable.”

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Jonathan Greenberg

Jonathan Greenberg is the editor and publisher of the award winning Sonoma Independent, which he founded in 2015 to serve the public interest with insight, solutions and advocacy.

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Jonathan has been an investigative legal and financial journalist with 40 years of experience contributing to national publications. During the past six years, Jonathan wrote four of the most widely-read exposes in the Washington Post about Donald Trump. Jonathan has known Trump longer than any journalist writing today. He was head of research for the first Forbes 400 when Trump conned him into putting him on the list. The notorious phone calls Trump taped pretending to be John Barron was the subject of monologues on Colbert, the Daily Show and Seth Meyers. Jonathan has appeared live on more than a dozen major news shows, including on CNN with Erin Burnett, Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo, on MSNBC with Ari Berber and Ali Velshi, and NPR's On the Media.

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