Agencies Grow Impatient for Hospital District Funds

Times Staff Writer

Last fall, directors of the South Bay Hospital District began talking about the need to move out of the bureaucratic shadows and become more visible in Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, the three cities the district serves.

Such things as periodic public meetings and a citizens advisory group were suggested. Visibility was an issue during the November district board election, when all of the contenders agreed on the need for more public participation in board decisions, since it had become a $1-million-a-year funding source for health programs in the three cities.

But now the board majority wants to delay the so-called "town hall" meeting for another two or three months--until the board is certain of its financial situation and has developed funding criteria--and some health service providers who hope to get some of the money are growing impatient.

Early Expectations

"The impatience on the part of providers is that earlier on, we thought things would move a lot faster," said the head of one agency hoping for funds, who asked for anonymity.

Health facilities in the three cities have been visited by some board members, and there is a growing file of informal applications for funds by various agencies.

Board President Gerald R. Witt, however, said the district is "right on schedule," adding that there is another side to the question of whether the board is taking too long.

"We don't want to go out and talk to people and get their hopes up," he said. "We want to make sure we have the money to do what we're trying to do. Whatever we do, we want to do it right."

Director Mary Davis, who chairs the finance committee, agreed. But at the same time, she said she understands people's frustration: "I had no idea that a public trust would be as tightly ruled as it is. I hoped that we would be further along."

Plans for Services

After more than 20 years as the operator of South Bay Hospital, the district leased the hospital for 30 years last June 1 to American Medical International Inc., with plans to use the $3-million-a-year lease income to improve public health services in the three cities. The district retained certain financial obligations from the hospital, including construction loans, bad debts, a pension fund and insurance. Financial consultants were hired to analyze the financial situation and advise the district on investments.

Kathleen A. Belkham, who was hired as district executive director in October, said the process of getting the district in order could not have gone any faster than it has. "We had no organization, no files, no organized budget," she said.

The board's division over public presentations surfaced at the last board meeting, when director Jean G. McMillan proposed that the board invite health agency leaders to speak to the board about their programs.

However, the idea was rejected after some directors said it could fuel the expectations of agencies before the board knows what its funding criteria will be, or how much money it will be able to grant.

Need to Be Sure

"We didn't want to get their hopes up that we would finance their charity when we're not sure how much we will have available, what their needs are, and what our criteria are," Davis said. "Until we know, we are remiss in letting people come in."

But McMillan said she does not believe that agencies would expect to be funded just because they spoke to the board. "I always feel that to listen to people and find out what they're doing is informative," she said. "I would have liked to have started in-depth talking with agencies right off the bat."

She said she was surprised at the board's reaction to her suggestion.

For their part, agency people say they know making presentations does not guarantee funding, although some concede that where there is money, there is always hope in what one called the "awful daily chore" of seeking funds.

Both Sides Seen

Julie Dorr, director of the Project Touch program for teen-agers, which hopes to get a grant, said she sees merit in both sides. "I favor Jean's (McMillan's) idea, but I see the reason behind Davis' position too, which is not to encourage people." But at the same time, she said the board should stop worrying and start moving.

"If they (directors) worry about mistakes, they might never take action," she said. "It's better to get moving and then make corrections."

Belkham said she plans to submit an interim budget--carrying the district through the end of June--to the board on March 7. A budget proposal for the 1985-86 fiscal year is a month away, she said.

Belkham said the district may be able to grant about $1 million in the next fiscal year, starting July 1. (She said this is based on a foundation practice of granting 10% of its liquid assets each year. Current district assets are $9.5 million, according to the latest analysis, which could change.)

Target in April

Officials said the district is working on goals and criteria for funding programs, and they are expected to be adopted by the board in April. According to officials, the board's options are broad, from funding existing programs and providing start-up funds for new programs to operating a nursing home.

Belkham said that in late May the district hopes to have a major public meeting in which organizations and private individuals could present their views and desires about health care needs in the three cities. Other smaller meetings also may be held, Witt said.

To begin funding in July, the board will have to receive proposals in May, Belkham said.

Belkham, formerly Orange County regional director of the Hospital Council of Southern California, is getting high marks from community health providers. But some say the district also needs the help of people with expertise in making grants and running public foundations.

Belkham agrees that such consultants are needed.

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