WEEK 2016
* Program connects ailing
patients, dogs to raise spirits
Total savings: $60,021
An edition of the Visalia Times-Delta
* VW“"UE
WEEKEND, APRIL 2-3, 2016
to vary
Difference in allocations
likely due to El Niño rain
HCCA recently announced an agreement to financially manage the Lone Pine hospital.
Contract aims to bring quality care, jobs to region
LUIS HERNANDEZ [email protected]
LONE PINE - Karen Isidro says she is hopeful the financial agreement with HealthCare Conglomerate Associates will turn Southern Inyo
Hospital around.
Isidro, who moved to the Eastern Sierra community about a year ago
from Texas, said she wants a functioning hospital in her new hometown.
Healthcare is important for the young mother. So is employment.
Isidro said she will start a job as a dietician assistant at the hospital
next week, a position she applied for about a month ago.
“I wanted to give it a try,” she said. “I hope things work better.”
HCCA, which also manages Tulare Regional Medical Center, announced its contract with Southern Inyo Healthcare District to handle
the hospital district, its rural hospital, a clinic and skilled-nursing facility
in Lone Pine.
“Our success in Tulare made HCCA a prudent choice for Southern
Inyo’s new board of directors,” said HCCA Chairman Benny Benzeevi.
“The hospital in Lone Pone is the only hospital in the nearby area and
serves not only residents but a large number of travelers to the Sierra
“Without the Southern Inyo Hospital, more than 130 miles of Highway
395 would have been left without a hospital.”
Bill Kees, a retired U.S. Marshall, said if the hospital shut down in
Lone Pine, it would mean a trip to 60-mile trip north to Bishop or an 80mile trek to Ridgecrest for medical services.
A medical emergency may not end with a good result, the Lone Pine
resident said because “they might not make it.”
Lone Pine is located in Inyo County on the border of the Sierra Neva-
“Once the
closes, it takes
a while for
patients to
return. We are
See HOSPITAL, Page 10A
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We the People.....7A
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FRESNO - Many California farmers
expect to receive full deliveries of irrigation water this year from a vast system of canals and reservoirs run by the
federal government, while some in the
nation’s most productive farming region will receive a fraction as the state
recovers from several years of
drought, officials said Friday.
Farms and water customers in the
state’s northern Sacramento Valley will
get their full water supplies from the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It’s a big
improvement over last year, when
those farmers received no water and
neighboring cities got one-quarter of
their contracted amounts.
Many farms to the south in the San
Joaquin Valley, however, will receive
five percent of requested deliveries.
They got no federal surface water for
the last two years, and say this modest
improvement is not enough to keep
them from continuing to rely heavily on
over-tapped groundwater.
“You just can’t keep doing this,” said
San Joaquin Valley farmer Sarah Woolf,
whose family grows tomatoes, garlic
and onions. “It makes you wonder as a
landowner in this critical region what’s
in the future.”
The difference in federal allocations
is likely how the El Niño weather system, which delivered a near-average
amount of rain and snow, mostly in
Northern California, caused water to
spill from the state’s major reservoirs.
Southern parts of the state, meanwhile,
saw relatively little precipitation, leaving most of its reservoirs low.
While an improvement, this year
won’t make up for the bruising of the
last four years, said federal officials.
“We are, in our view, in the middle of
a drought,” said Pablo Arroyave, deputy regional director for the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation’s mid-Pacific region.
“We certainly perceive some challenges throughout the remainder of the
water year.”
The announcement affects San Joaquin Valley farmers, spanning California’s interior from Stockton to Bakersfield. It is home to about one-third of
California’s farmland and one of the nation’s most productive agricultural regions. Drought has forced farmers to
buy water from other districts, rely
heavily on groundwater or fallow
The little water being provided to
many farmers in the San Joaquin Valley’s Westlands Water District is
“grossly inadequate,” district spokeswoman Gayle Holman said in a statement. She said that it shows how California’s water delivery system is broken.
10A Weekend, April 2-3, 2016 visaliatimesdelta.com / tulareadvanceregister.com Times-Delta/Advance-Register
Southern Inyo Hospital in Lone Pine. HCCA recently announce an agreement to financially manage the Lone Pine hospital.
Continued from Page 1A
da, along Highway 395 and east of the
base of Mt. Whitney.
Kees, waiting for a ride after having
lunch at the Lone Pine Senior Center,
said he hasn’t been to the hospital since
the new agreement was announced. But,
at 82, Kees said he has plenty of medical
Earlier this week, Kees said he was
scheduled to have surgery on his right
“Diabetes,” he said.
Though the procedure wasn’t scheduled for Southern Inyo Hospital, Kees
said he has peace of mind knowing the
hospital is open if there were any complications before or after the surgery.
“You are a little safer,” Kees said.
Getting the deal done
According to HCCA, the Inyo hospital
had been struggling financially and, by
the end of December, it was unable to
meet payroll and was losing staff.
Kees said he heard staff hadn’t been
paid in months or seldom. Benzeevi confirmed this.
“They had so many meetings about
the hospital,” Kees said. “Everybody
was concerned.”
There were difficulties with the hospital’s management team. The CEO and
members of the hospital board resigned,
creating financial limbo.
State officials moved in and sent patients to other hospitals. Kees said some
were taken to Bishop, others to Ridgecrest. The hospital’s license was also suspended.
A new board approved an agreement
with HCCA on Jan. 3.
Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce
CEO Kathleen New said the move came
during “a very narrow window of time to
do anything.”
This week, the chamber CEO said the
new agreement seems to be working out.
“I haven’t heard any complaints,” she
said. “HCCA are participating in the
community. Things are pretty good.”
New said she’s taking a wait-and-see
attitude, though.
“It has been a short time,” she said.
At just 2,000 residents, Lone Pine, a
township, has neither a mayor nor a city
The local connection
Sean Doherty, chief of staff for Assemblyman Devon Mathis, said he received a phone call from Inyo County Supervisor Matt Kingsley seeking help to
keep the hospital open.
Southern Inyo Hospital is located
within the assemblyman’s district.
Doherty said there was an immediate
health concern. There were 17 patients
with Alzheimer’s and dementia who
needed continuous care.
“There wasn’t a board to run the hospital. There wasn’t a CEO to run the hospital,” he said. “There was nothing.”
Doherty said Kingsley asked if there
was somebody who could step in to financially manage Southern Inyo Hospital.
HCCA was then contacted and the
agency offered to jump in for the financial management of the hospital.
“This is what HCCA does,” Benzeevi
said. “We go into places other people
don’t want to bother with.”
HCCA, however, has done this just
once before, in Tulare.
Doherty said Kingsley worked to
keep the hospital open. Doherty said Mathis’ office kept contact with state officials, who backed off Southern Inyo Hospital.
“He was at the forefront,” Doherty
said. “He was the one on the ground.”
Once HCCA agreed, it was time to let
the management organization take over,
Doherty said.
“They needed to do what was needed
for the right result for the hospital,” he
It’s not known if they were aware of
the conflicts back in Tulare between Tulare’s hospital board, finances and the
tower. It’s also unclear if HCCA was vetted by supervisors.
More local connection
Benzeevi said Dr. Parmod Kumar
signed a contract to serve as director of
Southern Inyo Hospital’s skilled-nursing
Kumar’s contract, however, is independent from the HCCA’s agreement,
Benzeevi said.
“Dr. Kumar has zero association with
HCCA,” Benzeevi said. “It’s important to
note that. There’s no correlation.”
The contract for the skilled-nursing
facility was reached with Southern Inyo
Hospital board, along with several other
similar contracts.
“They made that decision,” Benzeevi
Several phone calls and voice messages left to for Southern Inyo Hospital
board president seeking comment for
this report weren’t returned.
Kumar serves on the Tulare Regional
Medical Center’s Board of Directors. He
also a member of TRMC’s new medical
executive committee.
Back in Lone Pine
Shane Ensor, a father of three, said
he’s glad the hospital remains open. Taking care of children’s healthcare could
have required trips to Ridgecrest or
even Palmdale, in northern Los Angeles
“You have to have a hospital where
you live,” he said.
Earlier this week, Ensor was visiting
the clinic, located just across the street
from the hospital. He said he has also visited the hospital since HCCA took over.
“It’s great,” he said. “[The new doc-
tors] are pretty easy to get along. Before,
they were more strict. They were old
Benzeevi said HCCA brought more
than 70 doctors and additional staff to
ensure the hospital’s licenses was reinstated. Southern Inyo Hospital is seeing
patients in the emergency department,
acute care section and its skilled nursing
Kingsley said there are 10 patients at
the skilled-nursing facility.
According to HCCA, emergency department medical staff typically see patients for medical issues such as altitude
sickness, injuries from skiing accidents
and snakebites. There is also a range of
trauma injuries from motor vehicle accidents to gunshot wounds.
The district hospital has four acutecare beds, plus 33 beds in a skilled-nursing facility, according to HCCA.
Benzeevi said he’s pleased with the
work that has been done at Southern Inyo Hospital, so far.
“A community has a health care facility and HCCA will continue the work already started,” he said.
And managing a hospital hundreds of
a miles away won’t be a problem.
Benzeevi said an HCCA senior management team is in place to keep tabs on
Southern Inyo Hospital. He added he will
make weekly visits to the Inyo County
“[Distance] is a challenge. But not a
big problem,” he said. “We want to install
an integrated management health care
system. Same as we are doing in Tulare.”
For others, such as Kumar, distance
could prove challenging.
He was unavailable for comment.
Kingsley said he’s pleased the hospital is open and patients are receiving
care again.
“Once the hospital closes, it takes a
while for patients to return,” he said.
“We are extremely grateful. I think it
was a combination of getting the right
people to the hospital board. I do believe
the decision to bring HCCA will work.”
Growth in toll traffic outpaces regular roads
US Motorists drove nearly
3.15 trillion miles last year
WASHINGTON - With gas prices low,
motorists seem keen to travel on less
congested toll roads even if they cost a
little more, according to an industry
analysis of Transportation Department
statistics obtained by USA TODAY.
Motorists drove nearly 3.15 trillion
miles last year — 3.5 percent or 107 billion miles more than 2014 — to clock in as
the most heavily traveled year in U.S.
history, according to the Federal Highway Administration. And more drivers
than ever chose roads, bridges and tunnels that charge tolls.
The number of trips driven on toll
roads, bridges and tunnels rose 7 percent, according to a study of 31 facilities
by the International Bridge, Tunnel and
Turnpike Association. The 5 billion trips
through toll facilities surveyed represented 328 million more trips than 2014.
“The 6,000 miles of toll facilities in
this country offer a premium service,
and people are willing to pay for that service,” said Pat Jones, the association’s
The 31 facilities that responded to the
survey account for 80 percent of the tolls
paid nationwide, collecting about $11 billion of $14 billion in tolls, Jones said. The
Motorists drove nearly 3.15 trillion miles last year, and more drivers than ever chose roads,
bridges and tunnels that charge tolls.
survey found 23 facilities with record
traffic and 10 with double-digit growth.
The five biggest gains were at the
Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority in Florida (25 percent), North
Carolina Department of Transportation
(25 percent), Central Texas Regional
Mobility Authority in Austin (23.4 percent), Georgia’s State Road and Tollway
Authority (19.6 percent) and Washington
state Department of Transportation
(16 percent).
“I think it shows that we have a very
mobile, active workforce, and people see
value in using these toll facilities,” Jones
Highway-user groups tend to support
tolls for creating new roads or lanes,
along with bridges and tunnels. But advocacy groups often criticize adding
tolls to existing roads.
Sean McNally, spokesman for the
American Trucking Associations, said
tolls are typically less efficient in collecting money for roads than the gas tax.
Tolls also raise safety concerns, either
with congestion at collection plazas or by
sending traffic onto narrower secondary
roads, he said.
As toll roads switch from employeestaffed toll booths to electronic collection, costs are plunging, Jones said. Administrative costs for electronic toll collection can be as low as 5 percent. Congress last raised the federal gas tax in
1993, so states that want more money for
new projects will often turn to tolls,
Jones said.
“I think we will see expansion of existing toll facilities, and I think we will see
the creation of new toll facilities,” Jones
Greg Cohen, CEO of the American
Highway Users Alliance, said high-occupancy toll lanes for Washington’s Capital
Beltway have been well-received. But
the justification for a $15 cash toll on
Staten Island’s aging Outerbridge Crossing into New York, which opened in 1928,
is more questionable, Cohen said.
“Just because we’re driving more, it’s
really a sign of the good economy and a
lower unemployment rate,” Cohen said.
“It doesn’t mean that people necessarily
now support toll roads.”

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