It was perhaps one of the largest crowds to gather for an Oak Valley Hospital District Board meeting, since the announcement of removal of the labor and delivery ward. On Thursday, Feb. 7 close to 30 community members of varying ages entered the conference rooms for the 5:30 p.m. public meeting with one agenda in mind: saving the Oak Valley sponsored WET (Water Exercise Therapy) Class.
Earlier in the month the 75 active members learned via mail that the program would no longer be sponsored by OVHD due to conflict, noting Government Code Section 1090, Prohibiting Conflict of Interest.
Newly elected board member Dr. Chet Mahida owns a small interest in the Best Western RAMA Inn. A fact which board members, as well as OVHD President and CEO John McCormick indicated is in direct conflict of the law.
“Tonight we added this item because we felt there was going to be much concern which we were right,” OVHD Board Chariperson, Dan Cummins said at the start of the meeting just prior to Public Comment. Cummins made a verbal addition of the WET Class to the agenda. “There is much concern over this program. The Board of Directors does share in your concerns.”
Cummins went on to share the board’s view on the benefits of the program to the participants, as well as their sadness for closure due to lack of facility.
According to the board chairman, operating the program with the current board is in violation of Government Code 1090, Health and Safety Code 32-111, Political Reform Act, as well as Common Law Conflict of Interest.
Cummins consulted what appeared to be notes, reading the following statement: “Government Code 1090 specifically addresses financial benefits due to contractual agreements. Penalties applied by this code are both financial and criminal. Simply stated our legal advice states, this contractual agreement holds a serious and incurable conflict of interest with our newest board member. With this knowledge we took all appropriate and timely action necessary to alleviate the conflict, while looking for alternatives to keep the program silent for as short a period as possible, we are looking into alternative partnerships, venues and even the possibility of constructing our own venue.”
The floor was opened to the audience for both comment, as well as questions of the board due to its addition to the agenda.
WET activist and six-year participant, Sue Field was the first to address the board during the 45 minutes of commentary and conversation. At the age of 87, Field shared the impact the Water Therapy program has had on her personally.
“Tonight because of this same program, I walk into this chamber,” Field told the board. “I stand here still able to participate in an active independent life. I’m one of 72 participants and a list of many more.
“We believe there’s no more beneficial nor effective services than the WET Program,” Field said of the other clients. “Please will you help us?”
Additional clients of the therapy class posed varying questions of practicing medical staff who receive checks from the hospital and how that differs, as well as challenging the board with the notion of perhaps not trying hard enough to find a way around the law.
“To answer Mrs. Field’s question we did have legal advice on this whole topic. It’s happened to Oakdale in the past. It’s a very aggressive statute,” McCormick said.
“I’m having a hard time understanding this law, because I worked for Stanislaus County in law enforcement,” an audience member stated to the board. “It seemed everybody elected to a board there was a conflict. They always got around it.
“The mayor of Modesto had a conflict of interest with his personal ambulance company,” she continued, “being contracted with the city and they worked around that.”
McCormick indicated stricter restrictions had been placed on the law since the instance noted by the audience member.
“Unfortunately, with this particular law there is no working around it and our opinion from our legal advice given is it is an incurable contractual agreement,” Cummins said. “There’s no way to cure that and recusal does not cure it. So unfortunately there is no work around.”
Audience members continued to offer the board testimony on the physical effects the class has had on their lives, as well as loved ones, noting that many were referred to the therapy class by their primary care doctors, many of which work with Oak Valley Hospital.
“We’re very careful with this,” McCormick said to the audience, offering his sympathy as well as commitment to finding a resolution via another location in the City of Oakdale. “There’s another district hospital where the physician went to jail for this 1090 Violation, serving 16 months felony. Another board member was charged with a felony but got off with a lot of legal costs with a misdemeanor.
“You have to understand, I have an obligation to the board of directors, to keep them out of jail, including myself,” he said.
Community member James Oliveira stepped to the podium addressing the board with additional questions.
“Mr. McCormick you’ve twice now said that you obtained legal opinion indicating that if Dr. Mahida or the hotel donated use of the pool that it would still be in violation. Was that done in writing?” Oliveira questioned.
“I’m not sure if it was,” McCormick answered.
“Would you commit to having that opinion put in writing and given to the community so we can analyze it ourselves?” Oliveira asked.
“I’d have to ask the advice of legal counsel to do that,” McCormick stated. “I certainly was dumbfounded when you said that, because I think the rationale is we still pay for the employee plus there’s advantages to having a person co-sponsor the building.”
“Who is it you use for counsel?” Oliveira replied.
“I don’t have his name,” McCormick said.
The board indicated to the audience they had several resources they were examining outside of continuing the use of the pool at the Best Western RAMA Inn. At this time the program has been sponsored by a current client, which will keep it operational for the next three months, in hope that some sort of resolution will be reached during that time frame.
Oak Valley Hospital District Board meetings are held the first Thursday of every month in the Royal and Charter Oak Conference Rooms at 1425 West H St., Oakdale. For additional information call 209-848-4102.