By Steven Tavares.

The future of the Eden Health District is again being threatened. Legislation authored by Assemblymember Rob Bonta that intends to force the public agency to spend at least 80 percent of its operating budget on health care services passed an assembly committee Wednesday, 5-0. Thebill was referred to the Appropriations Committee.

“This is, in my view, a good government bill,” Bonta told the Assembly Local Government Committee Wednesday afternoon. “Their spending is upside down with a supermajority being spent on administrative overhead.” Bonta’s legislation would require a 80-20 split between health care services spent on the community and administrative costs.

Bonta believes, at most, the district is spending six percent of its budget on health care services, and often times much less. “If you’re in health care you should be spending your resources on health care,” he added.

Bonta acknowledged the introduction of his bill earlier this year followed several discussions with the health care district over its spending and obligations to San Leandro Hospital. “Those conversations have not been fruitful,” Bonta told committee members. In the end, he said of the district’s value to the public, “It doesn’t seem that the community is getting the right end of that bargain.”

Public officials in Alameda County and San Leandro have voiced strong opposition over the past year to the Eden Health District’s insistence it is no longer liable for helping subsidize operations at San Leandro Hospital, which it once owned, but eventually lost to Sutter Health following a protracted and costly legal battle. Sutter eventually settled and transferred ownership of the facility to the quasi-county-run Alameda Health System.

With the loss of the community hospital, the Eden Heatlh District,, formerly named the Eden Township Healthcare District, no longer operates a hospital in the district that covers San Leandro, unincorporated Alameda County and Hayward. Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan and San Leandro Mayor Pauline Cutter have sharply criticized the health care district for not spending enough of its budget on health services and instead, they argue, on employee salaries and overhead.

Eden Health District officials say the long legal fight with Sutter Health and its own struggle to survive as a government entity has precluded them in the short term from offering health care-related grants to local community groups.

San Leandro Mayor Pauline Cutter also testified before the committee Wednesday. She implored the Eden Health District to continue paying a portion of the costs for running San Leandro Hospital, but unfortunately legislation is needed to force them to comply.

Roxanne Lewis, an elected member of the Eden Health District Board of Directors testified the district has already paid $50 million since the beginning of its lawsuit with Sutter Health to successfully keep San Leandro Hospital open. The bill, she said, also usurps local control when dealing with special districts. “What this bill is trying to do is destroy district resident’s rights,” said Lewis. “I feel like this is a money grab by local people to shore up some bad decisions in the past.”

“Sounds like you have a problem with your health care district,” Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) told Bonta. Eggman chairs the Assembly Local Government Committee. Another bill, authored by Hayward Assemblymember Bill Quirk on the subject of the Eden Health District’s future is currently in the same committee.

However, Quirk’s Assembly Bill 2471 deals with the dissolution of the district through legislative means. Eggman said the two bills cannot be mended, but strongly urged Bonta to find common ground.

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Originally posted at East Bay Citizen.