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Why are we always surprised?
Jack Balshaw 7/26/01

A question that has been posed about government is, " If government doesn't plan, what does it do?" I first heard this during the 74-75 oil crisis in the context of "How could we have been surprised? If government …." It struck me as a very valid question. Government has the responsibility for running the nation, state, community or district and should be alert to anything that might impact its constituents.

The question is especially valid when there have been indications of potential problems. In this instance, my concern is with the potential for closure of the emergency room at Petaluma Valley Hospital. We were shocked when our only remaining theater closed. "How can a town this size not have a theater?" Now we've been through the threat of having the maternity function at the hospital closed. What is to say that the emergency room couldn't also face closure? How can a town this size not have an emergency room?

It's my understanding the Health Care District, which leased the hospital to St. Joseph's, has the right to take over operation of the ER if closure is ever threatened. However, closure wouldn't be a consideration unless the ER was losing large amounts of money. The Health Care District could take it over but it would have to accept the costs of permanently subsidizing a money losing operation.

There's an answer to that of course, as a legal District they could place a measure on the ballot to levy a district wide tax to support the ER's money losing operation. And we, the citizens of the district could make the decision to fund or not fund an ER. If the tax didn't pass, it would be our fault and not that of elected officials.

The ground work for public involvement is already underway in the form of the Petaluma Valley Hospital administrator sending out letters asking for individual financial support from the community. I believe this is the first step towards developing parcel assessment based community funding for Petaluma Valley Hospital. This might be a rational idea, but before it's presented to us as a full blown crisis, options should be developed while operations are relatively normal.

My personal belief regarding the hospital is that there needs to be resources in the community to handle unscheduled medical emergencies. To me, emergency treatment and birthing are necessities. These two areas serve time-critical needs and patients shouldn't have to be transported to Santa Rosa or Novato for preliminary treatment. As undesirable and inconvenient as it might be, all other hospital functions could leave the community without life threatening consequences.

If our Health Care District doesn't have a Plan B in place for the possibility of an ER or maternity services shutdown, they need to develop one immediately. Hopefully with significant public participation and an open, community wide, dialogue. Our city government feels it has no jurisdiction or responsibility in this instance. But, what will it do if every emergency ambulance run has to go to Santa Rosa? What is their Plan B?

Along the same lines, the operation of our city should contain no surprises such as the reported street condition problem. Even with the report in front of them and with acknowledgment of the need for an annual budget item of several million dollars for street repair, the council allocated only 2 to 3 hundred thousand dollars in this year's budget.

If we're going to be asked to vote for a multi, multi million dollar street repair bond, the city needs to have an adequate annual budget item for ongoing maintenance. Otherwise, either the money from the bond for street repair will be diverted to ongoing maintenance or the lack of continued minor repairs on other streets will just let them degrade. Either way, the public won't get what it will be "promised" from a bond issue.

Let's hope we're not surprised on that issue also.


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