Critics Say Health Districts Should Spend More on Public Health

TOPIC ALERT:

Tax-supported health districts should spend more on public health programs and reduce administrative costs, according to public health officials and taxpayer groups who attended a state oversight committee hearing Wednesday, The Bay Citizen reports (Gollan/Mieszkowski, Bay Citizen, 4/11).

Background

Some health care districts in the state have departed from their original mission to oversee hospitals. Currently, California has 73 health care districts, 43 of which still operate hospitals (Yamamura, Sacramento Bee, 4/12).

However, certain health districts are spending more of their reserves on administrative and operating expenses, such as lawyer fees, election costs and lifetime health benefits for part-time board members, according to The Bay Citizen.

Despite their spending practices, several of the health districts include efforts to ensure health services for residents in their mission statements.

Judy Nadler -- a senior fellow in government ethics at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics -- said, "[W]e have public agencies that are collecting money that is not being used for the purposes for which the agencies were originally established."

Other critics have said the health districts do little more than manage real estate and distribute grants, noting that they may no longer be the best option for improving the health of communities (California Healthline, 3/12).

Hearing Details

At a hearing of the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review on Wednesday, speakers pressed lawmakers to require more accountability from health districts that no longer run hospitals.

Lawmakers repeatedly asked why health districts have not spent more on public health programs. In response, officials representing Mt. Diablo Health Care District in Concord -- which has not run a hospital since 1996 -- defended the organization's spending practices and said they are committed to public health.

In addition, officials from Beach Cities Health District in Redondo Beach, Mt. Diablo and Peninsula Health Care District in San Mateo testified that their districts run efficiently and are committed to transparency.

Lawmaker Considers Legislation

After the hearing, Assembly member Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) said that he plans to push for legislation that would restrict how health care districts spend money. He said, "They are operating essentially as fiefdoms, making investments, acting as landlords and perpetuating themselves" (The Bay Citizen, 4/11).

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