Visalia is facing a critical decision with the scheduled May election. It contains ballot Measure H, for a new hospital replacing Kaweah Delta Medical Center’s 50-year-old facilities. That replacement, required by state law based on earthquake-related patient deaths in noncompliant hospital buildings, is an opportunity for this community to continue nearly a century of highest-quality medical care.
Visalia’s first hospital was a converted residence just north of downtown. In 1926, the city constructed a badly needed 55-bed municipal hospital, serving the community and the region, just west of today’s hospital.
The city operated this facility until the Kaweah Delta Health Care District was formed and the district’s citizens voted to support the 1960s financing and construction of today’s hospital. That hospital, carefully maintained and upgraded over the past half-century, has provided to all of us a level of medical care unsurpassed in the Valley, and is used by nearly 450 local doctors. Together, the level of care available from these highly qualified physicians and surgeons and from the hospital’s emergency and acute care facilities has been superb.
The citizen-selected continuing location of the hospital in the heart of the community and the hospital’s success in providing care has had a corollary benefit. Nearby hospital districts have struggled; some of them no longer operate hospitals. Kaweah Delta’s success – its 4,000 employees, hospital patient visitors from throughout the county, and local purchasing policies – has had a major economic impact on the community.
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As a longtime Visalia resident, with nearly three-quarters of a century of service in local government and as a consultant to cities and local special districts like Kaweah Delta, I’d like to offer information regarding potential concerns some members of the community may have regarding this financing proposal. This information is offered based on my belief that we all have an important interest in the continuance of highest quality medical care in our town:
▪ The minimal increase in our tax bills for bond issue financing will be a small percentage of our local property tax. There is no other way to finance the state-required replacement of our hospital facilities.
Hospital rates and charges cannot, because of insurance and governmental requirements, be raised to this extent. A project of this magnitude simply cannot be funded by the hospital alone.
▪ Fortunately, the hospital’s credit rating is very good, and as a result bond interest costs are as low as possible.
▪ One suggestion that has been heard is that district boundaries could be enlarged to help finance the hospital replacement costs. However, this is legally, and in practice, totally unworkable. The district is surrounded by other health care districts and cannot be easily expanded.
▪ The patients who are not district residents fully pay their way for hospital stays. Their families’ and visitors’ expenditures for meals and other purchases in town boost our local economy (especially downtown) and thus reduce our local taxes with added sales tax revenues.
▪ The state will close our hospital if we do not replace the existing building, which cannot be modified to new earthquake-resistant standards.
Even more critical to all of us who already live here, Visalia enjoys hospital care superior to those of other South Valley communities, and has attracted 450 quality physicians and surgeons, and 4,000 dedicated hospital nurses and medical support people.
This institution has saved the lives of our children, their grandparents and many of us who must vote “yes” to continue that same level of care. Visalia has historically, because of the commitment of its citizens, been the best town in the Valley in every way – we should not have to travel to other towns for quality medical care!
The state’s facility replacement mandate is clear-cut: “replace or shut down.” It offers to us, concurrently, an opportunity to support Visalia’s long-term commitment to provision of the best facilities and technology essential to critical medical care.
My family has been the recipient of that care; yours may have been also. I urge your support of, and “yes” vote for, the May bond election for the facilities essential to continuation of that level of medical care in our community.
Harry Tow is a former city manager for the city of Visalia. He is now a planning and engineering consultant serving communities in the southern San Joaquin Valley. He first moved to Visalia in 1956.