New blood for hospital district board?
Two locals to challenge El Camino district's incumbents
Two newcomers and two incumbents will run this November in an election to choose three members of the El Camino Hospital District's board of directors.
Dennis W. Chiu and Bill James have announced their candidacies in the race, while current board members John L. Zoglin and Wesley F. Alles have indicated they plan to seek re-election. Uwe Kladde's former seat — which has remained vacant since he resigned on May 15 — will also be on the ballot. A third possible challenger, Catherine Vonnegut, pulled papers, but told the Voice that she has decided not to run.
Both Chiu and James said they would work to introduce much needed change to the hospital organization, while Zoglin and Alles each said their years of experience on the board and in the health care industry make them stronger candidates.
"It's a very complex environment, and having the expertise and experience is very important," El Camino spokeswoman Chris Ernst said about the two incumbents.
Chiu is a lawyer and the owner of the Sunnyvale-based firm Prodigy Law. He said he is running because he believes the hospital has strayed from its original purpose and he wants to get it back on track.
"I'm concerned that there has been a change of vision at the hospital corporation level, where they're moving away from their role as a community hospital to a model that is closer to a for-profit, money-making hospital, even though they are a non-profit," Chiu said.
Echoing some of the questions recently raised by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury and Local Agency Formation Commission, Chiu said he was concerned with the way the two boards of El Camino Hospital are structured. With five members of the corporation board comprising the entirety of the district board, he said that conflicts of interest are inevitable. He questioned how it is possible for members who sit on both boards to make district decisions without first weighing how that decision is going to impact the hospital corporation.
James also said he thinks the way the boards are structured is not ideal. However, he said he does not see a realistic way to improve upon the current system. "I think given that it's a bad situation, it's preferable to have it the way it is now, than to have a situation where there is an independent and separate hospital corporation board that is not directly accountable to voters."
James is a patent lawyer and partner at Van Pelt, Yi & James LLP, an intellectual property law firm based in Cupertino. He ran for the hospital district board 2002. According to James, one of his biggest concerns is transparency. He believes too many decisions are made behind closed doors at El Camino.
"We need a policy-making process that involves the public in a meaningful way," James said. If elected, he said, he would work to scale back closed session decision-making. Information on hospital decisions and finances also needs to be easier for the public to understand, he said.
Zoglin, senior director of digital marketing services at the IBM-owned Coremetrics, is the board's current chairman. He acknowledged that the hospital's practices and polices had recently been questioned by the grand jury and LAFCO, and that both organizations had concluded that the board could improve its transparency. He also said that he believes the board has answered that call.
"We've done a lot to make sure we are more transparent," Zoglin said, adding that he feels El Camino is a better organization as a result of having to respond to the public scrutiny. "I think El Camino is a stronger hospital in 2012 than it was in 2008, and I think I've contributed to that."
Since he was appointed to the board five years ago, the district has more than tripled the amount of money it gives to local people and organizations through the hospital's Community Benefit program — up from $2 million a year in 2007 to $7 million planned for the 2012 fiscal year.
Zoglin also said he worked hard to introduce the volunteer advisory committees that are now in place to help the hospital board make better-informed decisions.
In addition his work on the board, Zoglin said voters should re-elect him because he will be able to hit the ground running. "I think it takes a number of years to get up to speed, like any job," he said of working on the board. "I think there is value to having some context and some expertise."
Alles was first appointed to the board in 2003 and is seeking his third term on the hospital district's governing body.
Like Zoglin, Alles said his experience is a big part of what makes him the right choice this November.
"I have a broad understanding of the hospital, what it means to be a district hospital and how to govern the hospital in a way that helps protect it as an asset in the community," he said, noting that his experience not only stems from the time he has spent on the board. He holds a doctoral degree in health promotion and currently works as director of the Stanford Health Improvement Program. "Population health has been my career."
As far as Alles is concerned, scrutiny of the hospital — from the civil grand jury and LAFCO — is in the rear view mirror. El Camino, he said, has vastly improved its governance and increased transparency, noting that LAFCO board members said so in a recent public meeting.
"I think the process we went through with LAFCO was an extremely good process," he said. "The fact that they raised questions of the hospital should not indict the board or me."
Alles was emphatic in stating that he is very dedicated to doing his best on the board. "I want to make sure that the people of the district continue to get the best care possible," he said, warning that bringing in new board members right now could have a negative impact on the district.
"I think boards need to be refreshed, but that needs to happen over time. Now's probably not the best time for that to happen," Alles said.