VENTURA : Hospital Cites Voter Response to Mailer

Community Memorial Hospital officials said Wednesday they were pleased with voter response to a recent mailer seeking their support in the fight against a new $51-million outpatient wing at the Ventura County Medical Center.

Of 221,141 registered voters who received mailers last week, 4,475--or about 2%--filled out return forms saying they support a countywide referendum that would kill the medical center project.

Community Memorial, a private, nonprofit hospital in Ventura, considers the public hospital's planned walk-in care clinic a threat to its business.

"The response has been overwhelming," said Laura Dahlgren, a spokeswoman for Taxpayers for Quality Health Care, a group sponsored by Community Memorial.

Community Memorial has collected enough signatures to place a countywide referendum on the medical center project on the March 26 ballot. But the county has filed a lawsuit to disqualify the ballot measure. The case is scheduled to be heard today in Santa Barbara Superior Court.

County officials said they were not impressed with the results of Community Memorial's letter-writing campaign. Those who filled out the letter's return forms urged supervisors to drop their support for the project and the county lawsuit against Community Memorial.

"If I sent out a mailer and I only got back 2%, I would say it fizzled," said Supervisor John Flynn.

Community Memorial officials want to block construction of the outpatient wing because they believe the project will drive the county deeper into debt and ultimately be used to lure private patients away from other hospitals.

County hospital officials have maintained that the outpatient wing is not an expansion as Community Memorial alleges, but a consolidation of outpatient clinics now housed in leased buildings. County officials said the new wing will save $1 million a year on rent.

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