By Dale Knutsen
Lake Almanor West
Very soon we’ll all be receiving our ballots for the November election. Lake Almanor basin voters will have an added measure on their ballot, one proposing a bond measure to fund the construction of a new hospital building to replace the existing Seneca Hospital in Chester. It’s not that the Seneca Healthcare District Board has suddenly decided that a new building would be nice. Actually, the State of California has finally quit postponing the enforcement of a 1994 legislative action that requires all hospitals in the state to meet certain seismic standards (something that the 70 year old existing building cannot meet). After looking into retrofitting the existing structure to meet those seismic standards, it didn’t take long to determine that the most affordable approach was to start fresh. And so the evolved facility plan calls for a new hospital of the same bed capacity but meeting all current standards, situated next near the existing hospital. All of this must be done by 2030 when the state will simply decertify any hospital that fails to meet the seismic code.
There’s no surprise in the dilemma faced by voters in the Almanor basin. We’ve known for a number of years that this was coming. But it has been easy to push it aside, and maybe hope that the whole thing would go away. However, the state is persistent. Either we produce a facility that meets the state requirements or in 2030 we no longer have a local hospital. Period.
Now there is a lot of local discomfort with the prospect of having to add an annual assessment to our property tax bill to pay for the new construction. After all, we’re in a period of increasing inflation, market uncertainty, yadda yadda yadda. But how many of us would be satisfied to continue to rely on a 70 year old automobile as our primary means of transportation? A 1952 Chevy or Ford might be a fun hobby item for a parade or car show but it sure doesn’t seem like the ideal ride for our regular needs (especially after a January snow!). So the odds are pretty high that a 70 year old hospital facility might be similarly lacking in features.
Let me offer some thoughts from the perspective of a family that regularly observes the role of local hospitals in the lives of residents and visitors during difficult moments. We are part of local fire, EMS and search & rescue activities, which means that we probably notice more medical emergencies than your average Plumas County family. Between actual involvement in incidents and monitoring other incidents on the radio, I can assure you that hardly a day goes by without someone being in need of prompt medical attention. These aren’t cases where making an appointment with the doctor is going to be sufficient. These are situations resulting from accidents and sudden medical crises where the victims need medical help right now! And that is where the local hospital comes in.
If Chester loses its hospital in 2030, local victims of medical emergencies will have to be transported to Quincy, Susanville or Chico for treatment. There is a high financial cost to do that, but more importantly, there is a serious medical risk in the time lost before treatment. There would be a very real and detrimental public health impact.
So when you receive your ballot, please think about the wellbeing of your community, your family and yourself when you consider the Seneca bond measure. Please join me in deciding to accept an add-on to our property tax bill and vote in favor of the hospital bond.