By Deb Murphy
The four candidates vying for two seats on the Northern Inyo Healthcare District board got together Wednesday evening for a forum hosted by the Sunrise Rotary.
The format was simple: opening statements, brief views on vision, finances and employee/community concerns followed by nine benign questions selected from those submitted by the audience.
The only question that even bordered on controversy was aimed at Phil Hartz, running against incumbent Denise Hayden for the Zone 2 seat: is it a conflict of interest for a candidate for the NIH board to sit on the Inyo County Grand Jury? Hartz was part of the 2015 Grand Jury whose report was critical of the seated board and sits on the current jury. Hartz explained he had consulted with the two Superior Court judges on the matter and would resign from the jury if elected. None of the other candidates, tactfully, considered his inclusion in the Grand Jury a conflict.
In the order of their opening statements, here are the candidates:
Dow Mattingly, a 13-year resident of the district and a building contractor running for the Zone 1 seat, focused on his experience meeting the needs of people.
Hartz, an Army veteran from a military family and retired social worker for Mono County, wants to see the hospital give the best care it can give. “The district is leaning toward improvements,” he said, “that’s what I want to see.”
Zone 1 incumbent John Ungersma has been on the board since 2001. An orthopedic surgeon, he practiced at naval hospitals and in San Francisco before moving to Bishop. “I know what hospitals are like,” he said.
Hayden, an administrative secretary for Inyo’s Public Works Director, has served on the board for 6-1/2 years, through the building and staffing of the new hospital. She noted it takes time and learning to serve on the board.
The candidates shared a similar vision: maintain a high level of care while adjusting to the Affordable Care Act’s payment model.
Ungersma and Hayden stressed the reasonable cost of health care and the balanced books at NIH in their statements on finances. Mattingly suggested a pro-active approach to increase business while Hartz would cut administrative positions and travelers, health-care professionals provided through agencies.
On employee and community concerns, three of the four focused on the role of the board as defined by the by-laws. Mattingly would “seek out and listen to the needs and concerns of employees and the community.”
Two of the submitted questions centered on recruitment, an issue throughout the Eastern Sierra. The incumbents explained the hospital had to hire travelers to maintain required staffing levels and the cost was not out of line. Ungersma noted successful recruitment by highlighting activities available in the area. Mattingly had a similar suggestion that recruitment should focus on the location.
In response to the question of engaging with the Hispanic community, Hayden cited the on-staff translator. Ungersma wanted to see the community represented on the board. Mattingly thought the question was “odd. We’re all the same.”
When asked what the three biggest challenges facing the hospital in the next five years, none of the candidates came up with three. Mattingly wanted to see the hospital continue to be a community facility. For Hartz, the challenge was maintaining a high level of care. Ungersma wanted the hospital to be a center of excellence and for Hayden the challenge was keeping up with the changes required by the Affordable Care Act.