Incumbents Harold Hill and Ed Maring and candidate Linda Sandoval, who are running together as a slate, sat at the dais and answered questions presented by moderator Dave Santos. Challengers Dr. Paul Berry and Ramona East sent regrets because both had to work, and John Ramos and Becky Campo were not present.
Ramos said he was not given enough notice about the forum, and Campo did not return a call seeking comment.
The three candidates introduced themselves and explained why they want to serve on the board before answering questions from people in the audience and offering their final remarks.
Sandoval said she used to visit to Patterson frequently to visit her late parents, Carlos and Francesca Sandoval, a connection that influenced her quest for good health care. She worked at the Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto for 20 years and moved to Patterson three years ago to care for her parents. She also sits on the board of Patterson’s Hammon Senior Center.
Hill, who has served on the health board for four years, told audience members that in a few months, he will have lived in Patterson 50 years. A retired insurance agent, Hill has also served Patterson through the local Lions Club, Rotary Club and Patterson Fire Department.
Maring, a local farmer, has been on the board 30 years and said he has seen financial ups and downs. Though Del Puerto Hospital closed in 1998, all of its bills were paid in full, he said.
“Health care is a business — you have to have a bottom line,” Maring said. “We must create income to have services.”
Santos read aloud a statement from Berry, which read in part: “The board members are elected by the people and the health care district is maintained with public money; therefore, as a board member, I will embrace public input and strive for my actions to represent the will of the people.”
Hill said he has embraced his responsibility as a trustee to keep up with the latest developments in medicine.
“The role of a district board member is to look at the needs of the community and give the most that we can with the dollars we have, “ Hill said. “The vision of the board is to bring specialists, if we can find them. We have to look at how medicine is changing and how to provide for Patterson and the whole West Side.”
According to Sandoval, being a board member requires caring for people’s needs with the money that’s available and getting the word out about what Del Puerto can offer. The district’s future health center at Keystone Pacific Business Park should provide easy access for all patients, she said.
“I have big dreams and visions for Del Puerto Health covering the whole West Side,” Sandoval said.
The three candidates emphasized that people in the community are welcome to all board meetings, which are posted 72 hours in advance and in the local newspaper, though few people show up.
“The public should be aware of their health care district, their clinic and their ambulance,” Maring said. “I don’t agree with the fact that we’ve been secretive, because that’s far from the truth.”
Hill concurred that the district had no secret meetings and no secret agenda.
“If people want to know what’s going on, show up to meetings and ask questions,” Hill offered. “We’re not trying to hide anything, because there’s nothing to hide.”
All three candidates declared their satisfaction that escrow had closed Thursday, Oct. 14, on a new building on Keystone Pacific Parkway. The district will double the size of its medical offices by moving from Ward Avenue to the 11,000-square-foot building and recently received a 30-year loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the $2.1 million it needs to pay for it.
“I’m happy to say we’ve closed escrow and, hopefully, in six to eight months, we can have a grand opening,” Hill said.
Hill also said it was infeasible for the district to offer 24-hour, seven-day-a-week healthcare. The district now has office hours from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on weekdays as well as Saturday hours. The district would have to hire three more doctors, three more medical assistants and other personnel, and the cost of seeing only 15 or 16 patients who would come in after hours each week would bring a loss to the district, he said.
“It’s quite some time until this town gets to 24 hours,” Hill said. “In the middle of the night, if you have a problem, the best thing you can do is call 911 for the ambulance. You’re wasting valuable time going to the health clinic.”
Maring described the ambulance as an emergency room on wheels.
When asked whether the health care center should accept patients from outside the West Side, all agreed that physicians hired by the district bring some patients from their previous practices, and the district benefits from the extra revenue.
One speaker asked abut the board’s vote three months earlier, with Anne Stokman opposing, that would enable district CEO Margo Arnold to receive her salary for a year and her health benefits for three years if she were fired without cause.
“Margo Arnold has worked very hard, diligently, day after day,” Hill said.
Maring said Arnold’s duty is to carry out the will of the board, and in her eight years at the district’s head, she has burned some bridges.
In closing, Hill said he foresees a day when patients no longer will have to drive to Modesto or Turlock for all medical services.
“Our goal is to provide the best we can with what we have,” he said, reiterating his invitation for people to go to meetings and give their opinions.
In his years on the board, Maring said, he has seen both the peaks and the valleys.
“When we closed the hospital, we were at the lowest point — now, we’ve moving forward to a new facility,” Maring said. “I think, if we work together as a team, we can bring more services to the community.”
Sandoval ended the night’s comments with a jab at recent newspaper ads in which Ramos has referred to Maring, Hill and her as the “three amigos.”
“We are the three amigos!” Sandoval said. “This town is under siege, and we are trying to help this town go get out from bondage and not be bullied.”
• Contact Maddy Houk at 892-6187 or email@example.com.