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A new Calexico hospital?

January 09, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Mayor Victor Carrillo created a committee Tuesday that will bring together two trustees of the Heffernan Memorial Hospital District and a pair of City Council members to work on building a new hospital in Calexico.

Heffernan trustees Norma Apodaca and Rosie Fernandez and councilman Frank Montoya and Mayor Pro Tem John Renison will meet with city staffers and a grant writer from Brawley next week to discuss how the city should apply for state, federal and private funding.

The committee could recommend giving the reins to the Heffernan district, taking the lead itself or partnering to form a new joint-powers authority.

Carrillo proposed the committee after hearing from Brawley-based grant writer George Thomas during Tuesday's city Redevelopment Agency board meeting.

Thomas made an exhaustive presentation explaining why Calexico needs a hospital. He offered to apply for funds to build that hospital in exchange for a 10 percent commission on the money he brings in and a $3,500-a-month retainer.

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Thomas told the City Council, seated as the RDA board, he has secured $65 million in grants for a variety of medical service providers during his 20-year career. Thomas counts Brawley-based Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo and Campesinos Unidos as clients.

Councilman Javier Alatorre asked him if he had brought this presentation to the Heffernan board.

"I have not," he said. "This would be independent of the hospital board."

Alatorre asked him if a self-sufficient hospital is feasible in Calexico.

Thomas said, "There is real sex appeal in a hospital for children."

He said it is easier to find funding for family health centers, programs that address women's cancers such as breast cancer or children's hospitals

Alatorre asked again if the city could support a hospital.

Thomas said, "I'm not promising the sky. It is possible if we do it right."

He said he has "trade secrets" he would reveal if the board contracts with him. He said he's a "major player" in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

Apodaca took to the podium in support of Thomas. She called his plans a "dream come true."

Carrillo wanted to know how many beds Thomas had planned for Calexico's new hospital.

"I don't know," he said.

The first phase of his plan involves applying for funding to build the main section of a 20,000-square-foot hospital. An addition for in-patient services — beds — makes up phase two. If that phase is completed the hospital would have 80 beds.

Thomas said he has worked for Loma Linda University, the Centers for Disease Control and a number of other medical- service providers.

Councilman Gilbert Grijalva then started asking questions.

"Is Mr. Lerma comfortable with you competing for funding?" Grijalva asked.

Louis Lerma is the director of Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo.

Thomas said, "I don't think it's competing."

"Have you gotten clearance from Clinicas?" Grijalva asked.

Thomas said he is an independent contractor.

Grijalva moved to the "specifics" of the proposal.

"These numbers are just numbers. There is no mention of equipment," Grijalva said. "A hospital is going to cost more than $3.8 million. That's a major gap of dollars. Then there is the issue of doctors, getting them to practice here.

Thomas said, "I agree with you" and said of the numbers, "I had to give you a handle."

He explained the bare-bones proposal, "I'm not talking about MRI here."

Grijalva shot back, "Why not? We want the best facility here."

Thomas said, "That's another area. There are methods of getting equipment donated."

Finally, Grijalva grilled Thomas on his pay. The agenda item read "a proposal to work under a performance basis contract."

"If you're asking for a retainer how is that ‘performance based?' " Grijalva asked.

Thomas said, "There are a lot of expenses involved."

A Thomas colleague, Socorro Juarez, then railed against the council for promising to build a hospital during their campaigns then failing to do so once in office.

"Who cares where the money comes from? Don't think so much about the money. Think about the health of the people that is affected by the trash and pollution here," she said, her voice rising with each word.

Alatorre said he always asks a lot of questions.

Henry Legaspi then addressed the council. The former administrative assistant for the Heffernan district and former Calexico city manager said the city should work in concert with the district since the district will be in existence "until you pay off that bond."

He added any hospital plans he has ever seen call for a 100- bed minimum.

Heffernan Trustee Rosie Fernandez agreed with Legaspi, saying, "The city should work with the hospital board."

She warned the council not to sign off quickly with Thomas, adding, "We have to find the proper person. We can't just hire anyone."

Carrillo then created the committee to "iron out the logistics" of applying for money to fund a hospital.

Once the roster of the committee was set, Thomas said, "I ask everyone to keep this under wraps. Don't go to Lerma or El Centro Regional Medical Center and make a big deal of this. If it becomes political I'll walk away."

Carrillo reassured him and told him this is a positive step for everyone involved.

Renison said he wants to make sure the committee would not "chase windmills here."

"I want to bring back something to vote on," he added.

City Attorney Michael Rood asked the council to make its intentions clear in a motion, "so that you're not having us write checks tomorrow morning."

Carrillo made a motion to set up the committee and consider working with Thomas.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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