South Bay Hospital District's Board Fires Executive Director

Times Staff Writer

The executive director of the South Bay Hospital District has been fired, primarily for failing to promote the agency as a source of money for public health programs, board members said this week.

Kathleen A. Belkham, 43, will step down as executive director on Friday after serving 10 months of an 18-month contract. Under an agreement with the board, she will receive $34,639 in vacation pay, pension benefits and remaining salary. Belkham waived her right to sue the board or individual board members, the board noted in its motion.

Though the termination was initiated by the board and approved unanimously, Director Virginia D. Fischer said Belkham is leaving "on a friendly basis." Belkham declined comment.

Board President Gerald R. Witt said Belkham was not able to get into the "community-involved activity" the board expected of her. He blamed that on the fact that she did not live in the South Bay and "could not find it economically feasible to live here." Belkham commuted to the district's Redondo Beach office from her home in Irvine. Before coming to the district, Belkham was Orange County regional director of the Hospital Council of Southern California.

Missed Meetings

"We told her there would be early meetings, luncheon meetings and night meetings and she didn't have the time to go out to them," Witt said. "We wanted her to sell the district to the community, to let them know what we were doing."

Belkham, who earned $52,500 a year, was the first executive director of the district, which assumed a new role on June 1, 1984, when it ceased operating South Bay Hospital after 20 years. The district leased the facility for $3 million a year to American Medical International Inc.

Using earnings from interest, the district became a funding agency for public health programs in Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. The three cities make up the district and residents elect its five-member board and pay taxes to support the agency.

Despite its new role, the district has had to clear up financial obligations from the hospital--including construction loans, collection of bad debts, a pension fund and insurance--and these matters have occupied much of its time.

Only 3 Grants

So far, the agency has made only three grants: $4,000 for the Salvation Army's Meals on Wheels program, $8,000 for a van to transport patients on a call-for-service basis to and from the hospital and physicians' offices within a five-mile radius of the hospital and $230,000 for the first year of a five-year program to improve health services in four South Bay school districts by providing additional nurses, health aides and health education.

The board is considering funding the program for a second year. It also is considering requests for $181,000 for six new programs submitted by organizations and cities. The district said it has $900,000 in grant funds available this year.

Earlier this year, several health care providers seeking grants expressed impatience with the pace of the board. "We thought they would move a lot faster," said one board member, who declined to speak for attribution. The district had expected to make grants by July 1. Of grants sought for fiscal 1985-86, only the van has been approved.

While giving Belkham high marks as a skilled hospital administrator, several board members said she lacked the strength to resist political pressure and the skills to guide and advise the board in winding up the hospital's financial affairs and forging ahead in its new role.

Needed Organization

"We needed someone to organize us and get us going," said board member Mary Davis. "We're a rudderless ship and we can't operate that way."

Witt said he was disappointed in the way three public hearings on health needs were handled by Belkham in May. They drew only about 60 people. Witt said they were scheduled too closely together and were not sufficiently advertised.

While the board has announced a search for a replacement for Belkham, board member Eva Snow already is boosting the candidacy of Patricia Dreizler, the 59-year-old community resources director in Redondo Beach. "I want her, definitely," Snow said.

She said her support for Dreizler was not a factor in her vote to fire Belkham, however. "I'm a mean old bag, but not that mean," Snow said. Davis, who like Snow lives in Redondo Beach, also favors Dreizler. "We need someone more familiar with what needs to be done for South Bay health care," Davis said. "She's the most qualified."

But board member Jean G. McMillan of Manhattan Beach said she opposes Dreizler because of her professional ties to Redondo Beach and to Archie Snow, a city councilman and husband of Eva Snow. She said those ties would make it "difficult for her to be completely unbiased" in supporting five board members representing three cities.

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