Union Tribune Editorial Board Gets It ALL Wrong!

GUEST OPINION

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First Posted August 30th
Bret Schanzenbach, IOM Follow
CEO at Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce

Today in the Union Tribune their Editorial Board published their opinion about the agreement that Tri-City Medical Center reached with the County of San Diego regarding the creation of a stand-alone behavioral health center on Tri-City’s Oceanside campus to help replace the behavioral health unit that Tri-City was forced to suspend last year. Their opinion piece was wrong from the first sentence and never recovered.

In the first sentence, they claim that Tri-City’s decision to close down the behavioral health unit was “hard to square with the obligations of the public hospital to do its part in helping those with mental health issues (emphasis added).” Fact checking before writing an opinion piece would be nice as there is no obligation that the state places upon public hospitals to provide inpatient behavioral health. There is, however, a state-mandated obligation upon the county to provide a full spectrum of behavioral health services.

In their second sentence, the Editorial Board opines that, “The Tri-City board’s claim that the medical center couldn’t afford safety improvements required by the federal government didn’t cut it.” Once again, they show that they actually didn’t discuss this item with anyone who was truly involved as the “cost” was only one factor. Yes, coming up with $8M is a big chunk of change, especially when the state and county have chronically under reimbursed for services provided by hospitals. However, in order to keep the behavioral health unit open, they would have had to make all the federally required facility upgrades within 60 days. After evaluating what needed to be done, their contractors estimated it would take nearly 2 years for a near complete rebuild of their facility! I was no math major in college, but even I can see that completing two years-worth of work in 60 days would be beyond miraculous. I’m not so sure that St. Joseph himself could even provide that level of construction production.

In sentence #3 the Editorial Board falsely represents the following, “Now, to head off a state audit, Tri-City has agreed to build a stand-alone psychiatric hospital on its Oceanside site.” That comment completely negated the fact that Tri-City had been in dialogue with the County since before they even made the decision to suspend their unit. For well over a year Tri-City has been looking for a way to create sustainable services for behavior health and the discussions with the County have been in earnest since January. While it is true no one relishes an audit, Tri-City wasn’t cutting deals to avoid anything. Tri-City has put several proposals on the table for the County to consider, and it was the County itself that rejected one such proposal in June, even after the County inserted terrible language that wouldn’t allow any privately insured person in the district to use the facility, only Medi-Cal patients. As a resident and community leader in Tri-City’s district, that offer was DOA! In the end, the County’s offer looked eerily similar to what Tri-City proposed from the beginning. So who was trying to “head off” what?

In the next paragraph the Editorial Board declares this a victory for “Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath.” Was it really? Or were they just as relieved as anyone else to not have to stand in front of the Audit Board and justify their request? A parade of community leaders in North County had their airline tickets in hand, set to hit the morning flight to Sacramento, ready to stand and testify as to the ridiculous nature of this audit request. Those who have been engaged here in the North County know how transparent Tri-City has been and that they have been working tirelessly to find a sustainable solution. How would it look to the Audit Board that a county supervisor from a neighboring district, and the Assemblywoman from Tri-City’s district (neither of whom had ever visited the facility in question to begin with), were demanding an audit when countless community members who do work in the district are saying this makes no sense? It was not a forgone conclusion that their request for an audit would even have prevailed at this point. But the Editorial Board didn’t think it necessary to mention that.

The only thing that they got right in their poorly devised opinion is that “County Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar also deserve credit…” Of course, they immediately destroyed their only valid point by continuing… “for lobbying Tri-City to change course.” They didn’t “lobby Tri-City to change course.” They deserve credit because they were both engaged from the beginning in trying find a sustainable solution. That is what good elected officials should do. And they both did. Good elected officials don’t threaten their community partners. County Supervisors Desmond and Gaspar, along with county staff and the Tri-City staff, are the only one’s who deserve credit.

While the power of pen might be mighty, it doesn’t mean we all have to buy what they are selling. Before you decide who deserves credit for what, make sure you know the full story.

A link to their “opinion”:

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/editorials/story/2019-08-29/tri-city-mental-health-fletcher-boerner-horvath