Official defends hospital from critical report
In the wake of a report calling for serious reforms, officials with El Camino Hospital said they will continue to work diligently to improve the public's perception of the local health care organization, but called some of the accusations "off-base."
Wes Alles, who sits on both the hospital and district board of directors, responded to some of the most serious charges made in a recent report by the Santa Clara County Local Agency Formation Commission.
The Audit and Service Review of the El Camino Hospital District found the hospital and hospital district lacking in transparency, unaccountable to its constituents and in need of serious reform. In the report, officials with LAFCO — which has the power to dissolve special districts — wrote that they would recommend dissolution of the hospital district if the organization does not take sufficient action to address the issues raised by the audit.
Alles said he opposes dismantling the district, which collects about $16 million annually in taxes from residents.
"The publicly elected board members are fully cognizant of their responsibility to the district," said Alles.
Alles said some of the accusations made in the LAFCO report were entirely off-base. Chief among these accusations was that the hospital somehow used tax money, along with the special status it has as a district hospital, to secure the purchase of its Los Gatos campus.
"No funds were transferred from the district to the hospital for the purchase of Los Gatos," Alles said unequivocally.
Alles emphasized portions of the LAFCO document that were complimentary of the hospital. The report came in two parts — an audit and a service review.
The service review is nothing out of the ordinary. LAFCO regularly puts together such reviews for all the government entities under its purview — including special districts, fire departments and other public agencies.
"Generally, we are pleased with the service review," Alles said, noting that the review found the hospital was providing top-notch care in its facilities.
LAFCO audits, however, are not regular occurrences; the audit of the El Camino Hospital District came in response to a Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury report which declared that the health care organization did not sufficiently delineate funds collected from taxpayers from funds generated by the hospital's private sector ventures, and that the hospital was not nearly as transparent as it should be.
Alles said the hospital responded accordingly to the grand jury's report — taking steps to increase the transparency of both its book keeping practices and the manner in which it holds public meetings.
"We have taken steps since (the grand jury report) became known to us," Alles said. "We feel like we're good citizens, and if people feel that (we need to take more steps toward increasing transparency), we are happy to accommodate."
Alles pointed to a series of public question-and-answer sessions held at both the hospital's Mountain View and Los Gatos campuses, intended to allow residents to have their voices heard. And while the hospital corporation and hospital district formerly held their board of directors meetings on the same day, one after the other, the district now holds its public meetings on a different day — the idea being, according to Alles, to make it clearer which body is meeting and what decisions are being made.
"We've tried to address (these concerns) in the past," Alles said. "I think we have done it verbally in meetings. We have done it in some of our written materials."
If the LAFCO audit is asking El Camino to "somehow more clearly define the district versus the hospital, that is something we are willing to do," he said.
The hospital district board will discuss the LAFCO report at a public meeting, scheduled for June 19 at 5:30 p.m. on the ground floor of El Camino Hospital's Mountain View campus. The public is invited to hear the board members' responses to the report at that time.