After an investigation by The Bay Citizen revealed that many of California's taxpayer-funded health care districts no longer run hospitals — a departure from their original mission — the state Assembly's top watchdog committee plans to take a closer look at how those districts are using their resources.
The Bay Citizen found that some districts have stockpiled tens of millions of public dollars and diverted precious resources to administrative and overhead costs, while health care needs in their communities go unmet.
The districts were created after World War II, when the state Legislature allowed communities to levy taxes for hospitals in rural or underserved areas. But about 30 of the 74 health care districts statewide no longer run hospitals, The Bay Citizen's investigation found.
The Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review will hold a hearing on the role of the districts next week. The 13-member committee is charged with finding inefficiencies in state government.
"Do these districts need to continue to exist?" Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), the committee's chairman, said in an interview.
“Based on your article as the impetus and what else we've been able to develop through the committee staff, there is a very real question, 'Should these districts continue to exist and are they using their resources to promote public health and welfare?'” said Dickinson, who called for the hearing.
Among the people scheduled to speak at the hearing are top officials from the Peninsula Health Care District in San Mateo and the Beach Cities Health District in Redondo Beach. Health care advocates and a representative from the Association of California Healthcare Districts will also appear.
The committee has also invited lawmakers from the Assembly Committee on Health and the Committee on Local Government to join the hearing.
David McGhee, chief executive of the Association of California Healthcare Districts, has defended the districts, saying they provide crucial services.
On Tuesday, McGhee referred calls about the hearing to the association’s legislative advocate, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Dickinson criticized the Peninsula Health Care District and other districts for “squirreling money away.”
“To take that money and bank it doesn’t appear to serve, in many cases, anyone’s interests except the districts,” Dickinson said.
The hearing is scheduled for April 11 at the state capitol. According to Dickinson, it could trigger new legislation that would tighten controls on how health care districts spend public funds.