Since MVgo first launched in 2015, its ridership has increased by more than 35 percent, according to officials. The system's ridership is expected to surpass 130,000 by the end of this year.
With the expansion, the transit service will now have a total of seven shuttles. The five new shuttles will be larger, capable of taking up to 30 riders, to better meet demand during peak periods.
In another improvement, MVgo is launching a new mobile app, RIDEMVGO, to allow riders to track where each shuttle is along its route. Previously, this feature was only available for desktop users through the website mvcommunityshuttle.com.
Starting sometime early next year, the shuttle service will also be launching a new partnership with Lyft and Uber. The ride-sharing companies will offer discounted rates starting or ending in Mountain View from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m daily. Organizers are also looking at similar partnerships for carpooling with Scoop and WazePool.
The MVgo shuttle system is funded by Google and a coalition of other local companies through the Mountain View Transportation Management Association.
Health care directors take oath of office
El Camino Healthcare District board members Gary Kalbach and George Ting took the oath of office last week, officially joining the district's board of directors and, by extension, taking a leadership role overseeing El Camino Hospital.
Board member Peter Fung was sworn in for his second four-year term.
Fung and Ting, both physicians, won handily in the election for the health care board last month, each holding a huge lead over former Mountain View City Council member Mike Kasperzak and former Sunnyvale City Council member Jim Davis.
Kalbach ran unopposed for a seat left vacant by former board member Neysa Fligor, who was appointed in 2017 and did not seek re-election in the November election. He was sworn in for a shorter two-year term.
Ting has a long history with El Camino, working as a nephrologist at the hospital for 40 years and specializing in treating patients in critical condition and in need of dialysis and transplants, according to a statement by the district. Kalbach, a Los Altos resident with a background in business and finance, has been involved in the hospital's committees since 2012.
Board members oversee the El Camino Healthcare District, which comprises Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, as well as parts of Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Cupertino. It's a separate entity from the hospital corporation, and it receives tax dollars from district residents.
Despite the separation, health care district board members have the option — and always take the opportunity — to serve on the hospital's board as well. Ting was added to the hospital board's roster on Dec. 7, while Kalbach was previously appointed to the hospital board as an unelected member earlier this year.
Monta Loma dives into coding
Hundreds of students at Monta Loma Elementary recently participated in the annual Hour of Code event, getting early exposure to the world of computer science.
A local group of tech-minded teens, called Computer Engineers of the Next Generation (CENG), hosted coding sessions at Monta Loma on Dec. 5. While a couple of classrooms at the school have participated in the event in the past, this was the first year that the hour of code reached all of the school's 423 students, according to Alice Lee, a parent who helped organize the event.
Students participated in games that incorporated basic elements of coding through "drag-and-drop" commands, mimicking elements of popular games like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies.
CENG club members, which include 15 Los Altos High School students, used the event and other initiatives — including free after-school coding classes throughout the year — as a way of encouraging underrepresented minorities to participate in coding.
Twenty-six Monta Loma students who have attended CENG classes acted as "junior mentors" for the Hour of Code event, teaching younger students about the event and assisting young children with the coding-style games.
PAMF sued over false Medicare claims
The U.S. Attorney's Office has joined a lawsuit against Sutter Health and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation accusing the health care providers of knowingly submitting wrong or inaccurate diagnosis codes for some Medicare payments, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Dec. 11.
The lawsuit alleges that Sutter and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation violated the federal False Claims Act by submitting inaccurate codes that inflated the "risk scores" of patients on the Medicare Advantage program, and enabled Sutter to reap greater reimbursements from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the Medicare program. The lawsuit also alleges that when the Palo Alto Medical Foundation became aware of these inaccurate diagnosis codes, it failed to identify and delete additional potentially inaccurate codes that would result in a higher payment to Sutter.
PAMF's locations include the Mountain View Internal Medicine Center at 701 E. El Camino Real in Mountain View.
Medicare beneficiaries have the option of enrolling in managed health care insurance plans called Medicare Advantage, also known as Medicare Part C. The plans are owned and operated by private Medicare Advantage organizations or MAOs. Medicare Advantage plans are paid a "per-person" amount to provide Medicare-covered benefits to the beneficiaries.
The Centers for Medicare adjusts the amount of the payment based on demographic information and the health status of each patient in the plan. A patient with more severe diagnoses has a higher adjusted amount, or "risk score." The government makes a larger payment to the Medicare Advantage plan for that patient, according to the Justice Department. Sutter allegedly submitted the inaccurate diagnoses codes for their patients to the insurers, who then submitted the codes to Centers for Medicare.
As a contracted provider to the insurer, Sutter receives a share of the payments to the insurers from Centers for Medicare.
The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, by Kathleen Ormsby, a former employee of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. The False Claims Act permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to receive a share of any recovery.
U.S. Attorney Alex G. Tse said in a statement that the government's participation in the lawsuit illustrates a commitment to protect the integrity of the Medicare Advantage program.
"It is critically important that the data submitted to the Medicare Advantage program is truthful, because the government relies on this information to set payment levels. We will continue to guard government health programs from companies that improperly maximize their bottom line at taxpayer expense," he said.
Jody Hunt, assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice's Civil Division, said, "Today's action sends a clear message that we will seek to hold healthcare providers responsible if they fail to ensure that the information they submit is truthful."
In an emailed statement from Sutter Health, company officials said, "Sutter Health and PAMF are aware of the matter and take the issues raised in the complaint seriously. The lawsuit involves an area of law that is currently unsettled and the subject of ongoing litigation in multiple jurisdictions. We intend to vigorously defend ourselves against the allegations in the complaint."
Google buys SSL building
Google has reportedly purchased a 100,693-square-foot manufacturing building at 3850 Fabian Way in Palo Alto's Adobe Meadow neighborhood from satellite maker SSL, formerly Space Systems/Loral LLC.
SSL's parent company Maxar Technologies announced on Friday, Dec. 7, that it had closed a deal for the 4.5-acre site that sits across the street from the main SSL campus for $70 million on Dec. 6, according to media reports. A Google spokeswoman confirmed the deal to local media, but would not comment on what Google plans to do with the site.
Last month, Google confirmed the $1 billion purchase of the Shoreline Technology Center offices in Mountain View's North Bayshore, and also recently secured a $110 million deal for 10 acres of public land in San Jose.
The area that Google purchased includes Building 1, where approximately 400 SSL engineers currently work on the design and production of satellites.
According to Maxar, these employees, along with customer workspaces in the building, will be relocated to nearby Building 21.
Biggs Porter, chief financial officer of Maxar Technologies, said the company still owns roughly 24 acres of office, research-and-development and manufacturing facilities in Palo Alto.
"With the sale of Building 1, we have reduced the SSL footprint in Palo Alto for improved efficiency and have freed up capital," Porter said in a statement. "The net proceeds from this transaction will be used to pay down Maxar debt. "
In November, Maxar CEO Howard Lance announced that the company planned to reduce its capital expenditures and focus on curbing its $3 billion debt load, according to SpaceNews.
Lance said unloading SSL's geostationary satellite manufacturing business would "help Maxar de-lever regardless of how that plays out — be it through a sale of SSL or of the 29 acres of real estate it sits on in Silicon Valley," according to the SpaceNews article. In June, SSL made 109 permanent layoffs in Palo Alto, according to a filing with the California Employment Development Department.
—Palo Alto Weekly staff
New head of county parks
The Santa Clara County Department of Parks and Recreation promoted its interim director to director on Dec. 11, the county reported.
Don Rocha, a Gilroy resident, joined the department as a park ranger 30 years ago and began serving as interim director after Robb Courtney's retirement in June.
Rocha has operated the park system and its programs, worked on implementation of the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan and created the system's capital project budget plan.
"I'm looking forward to the future as we move toward accomplishing goals related to the recently approved strategic plan," Rocha said in a statement, describing his goal of bettering the parks system for a diverse county.
Rocha studied wildlife management at Humboldt State University, is a member of the National Recreation and Park Association, The Wildlife Society and many other environmental organizations.
—Bay City News Service
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