Hospital district assailed: Los Angeles (CA) Daily News, 5/12/05

Palmdale's mayor criticizes possible move to stop project

By Jim Skeen

[Palmdale CA] Mayor Jim Ledford said Antelope Valley Hospital officials can forget about getting a bond measure passed after the revelation they are considering the use of eminent domain to stop a competing private hospital.

Palmdale residents won't be willing to tax themselves to build a Palmdale hospital for a government agency that blocks a private effort to provide medical care in Palmdale, Ledford said Thursday.

"The hospital district has shot themselves in the foot on this bond," Ledford said. "Why would anybody approve a bond for this type of action?"

Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Systems, operator of Lancaster Community Hospital nearly four years ago reached an agreement for city help in building a hospital in west Palmdale, near 10th Street West and Palmdale Boulevard.

Since then, Antelope Valley Hospital officials have expressed fear the new private hospital would draw off patients with insurance coverage, leaving Antelope Valley Hospital with a higher proportion of indigent patients unable to pay for their care.

"What we're seeing is protection of their market," Ledford said of the eminent domain idea. "How long can that game go on?"

Antelope Valley Hospital officials said Thursday that no decision has been made to pursue eminent domain action on the west Palmdale hospital site or to go for a bond.

"The bond is not a bond yet. We are just right now trying to educate the community on the health care needs, that there are not enough emergency and critical care beds," hospital spokeswoman Jackie Weder said.

As for Ledford's claim that the hospital was trying to protect its market, Weder said the hospital is "protecting the community."

"Universal Health Services has been promising a new hospital to Palmdale for some years. The Antelope Valley Health Care District wants to see that the community gets what they deserve and what they need, more emergency and critical care beds," Weder said. "We really want the community to get what they deserve. We want a Palmdale hospital to become a reality."

Antelope Valley Hospital officials have paid for a telephone survey among potential voters to gauge support for a bond to finance renovation of the Lancaster hospital and to build a new hospital in Palmdale. Hospital officials spoke Wednesday at an Antelope Valley Chambers of Commerce luncheon about local health care needs.

A glossy Antelope Valley Hospital mailer received this week by Palmdale voters doesn't mention a bond measure, but says on its cover: "Want a new hospital? Your input is needed: Make a new hospital in Palmdale a reality."

Universal Health Services is on track to open its Palmdale hospital in 18 months, said Bob Trautman, chief executive officer for Lancaster Community Hospital. The first in a series of required state approvals for the project is expected this week, which will allow construction work to start.

On Monday, the City Council approved a $370,000 contract for grading for street work and utilities in support of the hospital project.

One of the first facilities to emerge for the project will be a medical office building that will adjoin the hospital.

"If all goes well, we will have this building occupied next year," Trautman said Thursday.

Trautman declined to comment on the eminent domain concept, saying that UHS will focus on the positive things it is bringing to the community. UHS plans to run advertisements in local news media showcasing its Antelope Valley efforts.

City officials said they have been seeking partners to open a Palmdale hospital for years and that the Antelope Valley Hospital District has either been unwilling or unable to participate.

Even if the hospital district were able to get a bond passed, there are no guarantees when or even whether a Palmdale hospital would be built, Ledford said. State approval of hospital designs can take years.

Palmdale officials complain that the hospital district, which is a government entity that collects no tax dollars but is governed by an elected board, has a history of underserving their city.

City officials said the hospital district is in default on an agreement by which the city contributed $1 million in street work and other help toward opening a clinic on Palmdale Boulevard and 40th Street East.

The agreement called for the clinic to provide 24-hour service there and expedited ambulance service. Neither of those conditions are being met, said Michael Adams, Palmdale's housing manager.

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