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Letters for the Week of January 20, 2015

Readers sound off on healthcare, political will and Lynette Gibson McElhaney.


"Fatal System Error," Feature, 1/7

The County Is Shirking Its Responsibility

This excellent article brings to light the fact that not-for-profit hospitals in the East Bay, particularly Kaiser, fail to provide adequate care to the under and uninsured to merit the tremendous tax breaks that they receive. The financial struggles of Doctors Medical Center (DMC) and its $19 million annual deficit are also outlined. But there is an additional aspect to this story that should be told.

In Contra Costa County, Contra Costa Regional Medical Center (CCRMC), located in Martinez, is the safety-net hospital for Central and East County residents.  In that capacity, it receives $30 million per year from the county general funds and an additional $14 million from the state in consideration of its role as a safety-net hospital.  DMC provides an even greater safety net role for the residents of West County, yet it receives no such funding from the county or state. Although generally poorer than Central and East County, residents of West County are asked to pay higher property taxes for the privilege of having a hospital. Why is this? 

Although the county has an ethical responsibility to distribute healthcare resources evenly throughout the county (let alone in the areas of particularly concentrated need, such as West County), it is not legally mandated to support DMC because it was created as a district, not county, hospital in the 1950s. This distinction is outmoded. In Alameda County, politicians have risen above the fray to reorganize hospitals to meet modern needs. There is no such political resolve in Contra Costa County. In 2014, county supervisors blocked a proposal for a county sales tax increase that could be used, in part, to support DMC. County health officials appear fearful that any effort to support DMC would cut into the extremely generous support that CCRMC receives. 

DMC is the only hospital in West County to provide the tertiary-level services that John Muir provides to Central and East County. As such, DMC is crucial to the health and welfare of West County residents. During its campaign for the Measure C parcel tax last year, which would have raised an additional $20 million per year to eliminate DMC's financial deficit, the Contra Costa Times editorial board advised the public "not to throw good money after bad" in support of DMC. Why is $44 million to CCRMC "good money" and any support of DMC "bad?"

Dr. Richard S. Stern and Dr. Sharon B. Drager, former chiefs of Staff of DMC and present governing board members, Berkeley

We Need More Preventative Care

Excellent article. Yes, we do have local inequities and tragedies in medical services. However, readers should also look at the much bigger picture. I suggest doing a Google search for medical expenditures by country. We pay about 50 percent more for healthcare than the next closest country, and about double the cost of the average developed country.

On top of this, we like our medical system far less than citizens in about every other western European country. I also suggest doing a Google search for "Time Magazine, Medicine Gets Personal" for the article in the December 29, 2014 issue with the same title. Dr. Garrison Bliss is creating a plan based on keeping people well and out of the ER with preventative care, rather than racking up fees for services rendered and pricey ER visits. He sees far fewer patients in a day, but spends much more time with each patient while earning the same salary by keeping people healthy.

Osman Vincent, Berkeley

"The Challenge of 2015: Affordable Housing," News, 1/7

We Need More Political Will

Creating affordable housing in Oakland is not about the academic exercise of studying the problem — it is about somebody on the city council having the political will to drive this issue until it is a reality. The facts are that Jerry Brown's 10K in the Jack London district and downtown only created prime housing for the economic elite who spill over from San Francisco. The reality on the ground, based on Mayor Ron Dellums' affordable housing study from 2006, indicated that land prices for an inclusionary ordinance will work in those two neighborhoods and in North Oakland (Rockridge and Temescal). Jeff Levin was a part of the city staff that prepared that study in 2006 and I am sure he would agree that those numbers are even better today. The problem is that the people in those neighborhoods not only do not want affordable housing, the politicians are afraid of having that conversation in public because race is always at the bottom of it. So they keep studying in hopes that it may go away.

The other problem is that the city council continues to react to every housing market fluctuation instead of maintaining the vision outlined in the General Plan. Decisions such as the one allowing Ellis Partners to build high-rise market-rate (expensive) housing in Jack London Square does not help. Maintaining the General Plan vision in that case would have been to say "no" to Ellis Partners. This would push the economics of the land out along the transit corridors where affordable housing could be built to coincide with the transit villages at BART stations and regional transportation projects like the BRT.

Gary Patton, Hayward

"Oakland Council Thumbs Its Nose at Voters," Seven Days, 1/7

Where's Nancy Nadel When We Need Her?

Lynette Gibson McElhaney long ago proved that she's a chamber of commerce ally and supporter of the most retrograde elements in the Oakland Police Department. In other words, she's just another in a long line of cookie cutter, fake "progressive" politicos who've been running our town for a while now. She and Dan Kalb were supposed to be a breath of fresh air when they joined the council; instead, they've fallen right in line with the status quo and have refused to rock the boat. Now it seems that Annie Campbell Washington and Abel Guillen have also decided to take the path of least resistance. Can we please have Nancy Nadel back?