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By Tina Fisher Cunningham
Fisher Forde Media 

The hospital is built. Now what?

The Forde Files No. 177


October 27, 2018

Tina Fisher Cunningham

Healthcare District candidates weigh in

The opening of the new Tehachapi acute care hospital is the culmination of a 40-year bumpy, turbulent ride that has been marked with drama, disappointment, contention, tears and, above all, the unshakable tenacity of the residents of the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District.

While Adventist Health, a private entity, will operate and manage the new hospital for 30 years, the healthcare district will expand its mandate as a conduit for community healthcare concerns and programs.

Until 2016, when District voters approved a contract with Adventist Health to operate the hospital in return for a $27 million pre-paid lease, the board's paramount job was to run the (old) hospital. Now the board no longer has that burden and can focus on urgent community healthcare issues, funded annually by $700,000 in special district taxes. Healthcare districts are accountable to the community, and the state of California provides broad authority to meet needs at a local level.

Adventist plans to return to the District all the downtown older properties that it has leased from the District, including the old hospital, presenting the opportunity for commercial ventures.

The board is soliciting input from the community to help decide what to do with the older properties. The home page on the District web site says, "What should we do with the old hospital?' Tell us your thoughts!"

The three incumbent candidates are running as a slate. Four other candidates are on the ballot. Voters may vote for three of the seven. The candidates, alphabetically:

"There are a lot of other things we can do," candidate Buffi Amestoy said. "We can offer veterans services. We can partner with other hospital entities to do urgent care in Tehachapi or at Cal City. There is nothing after 5 p.m.there [for urgent care]. In Mojave, there is nothing after 5 p.m.. We could open a battered women's shelter." Amestoy is a licensed veterinary technician who has worked in the medical field, in veterinary medicine, in retail and at hospitals.

Incumbent director Duane Moats has been on the healthcare district board for five years and earlier served on the hospital bond oversight committee. He's had an accounting practice in Tehachapi for 30 years. Moats explains that the $27 million that Adventist paid was spent to finish the new hospital. "That $27 million represents $900,000 per year of prepaid rent for 30 years, or $75,000 of advance rent per month. TVHD recognizes $75,000.00 of rent income each month and reduces the prepaid rent by $75,000 each month., but there is no cash involved in the transaction."

Healthcare district board president incumbent Mike Nixon was on the board in the late '80s and '90s, returned by appointment in 2013 and was subsequently elected to a full term. At the beginning of his appointed term, Nixon said, "We were $18 million short of doing 83 percent of the hospital project." The board then partnered with Adventist Health, which enabled them to complete the hospital. "We've really accomplished our mission," Nixon said. Going forward, "We are doing strategic planning on what to do with the old facilities. We are getting a lot of feedback." He said the District can generate income from the downtown properties, possibly lowering the tax on District residents. "We want to sunset it," he said. Nixon owns Vintage Aero engine restoration company.

Candidate Cherie Roussel has worked for Albertson's grocery chain for 28 years. She was transferred to Tehachapi in 1994 when the store opened here. Roussel was a member of Dust and Diamonds mounted drill team for 10 years, riding in fundraisers for the hospital. She is a candidate for the board because "I wanted to step outside of my box and become more active on a higher level. I am excited to share and learn and grow with the community." Her late son advised her: "Mom, do something you don't think you would normally do."

"The District's goal is to improve the life and health of the community," appointed incumbent Christine Sherrill said. She has served Tehachapi Hospital in several capacities, retiring after 16 years in 2015 as Chief Operations Officer. With Adventist returning the downtown District properties that were part of the lease agreement to the District, "there are lots of opportunities for service to the community," Sherrill said. "We can't compete with Adventist, so no clinic, but we can have adult day care, child care, sick day care for children, a community garden, education on drugs and STDs, behavioral adult day care."

As a public entity, the healthcare district board meetings and finances are open to scrutiny. The board meets once a month in the afternoon at its headquarters at 305 South Robinson St. Agendas and complete meeting packets are available online at


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