The last time there was a contested race for the Sonoma Valley Health Care District board was 2010. To put that into context, consider this: It was 2010 when then-President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act; “Lost” was a top-10 show in the Nielsen ratings; and the term “uber” meant little more than a German prefix denoting something extreme.
In other words, it’s been a long time.
But after three straight healthcare district elections which saw only board incumbents file to run, this time longtime SVHD board member Peter Hohorst decided not to seek re-election, opening up one seat to new blood, while incumbent and current board president Joshua Rymer seeks to retain the seat he’s held since appointment in 2013.
Joining Rymer on the Nov. 6 ballot are retired engineer Doug Ghiselin and retired gastroenterologist Michael Mainardi.
Whichever two candidates earns the seats on the board, they’ll find themselves serving a district that’s navigating major challenges in a 21st century healthcare world. Like many communities of its size, the Sonoma Valley Hospital is adapting to a healthcare landscape of rapidly advancing technologies in an aging community amid lower government reimbursements for Medical and Medicare patients.
These are challenging times for community hospitals, to be sure.
And this year the Sonoma Valley Healthcare District has made some difficult – and not always popular – decisions, such as eliminating its under-used child-birth services and transferring its home-care program to Hospice By the Bay. As of this writing, hospital officials are brainstorming for solutions to help make its skilled-nursing program financially viable as well.
Joshua Rymer, 61, has served as board chair in 2018, a year of transition for SVH, which is in the midst of cost-cutting measures to mitigate a more than $6 million deficit this year – made only somewhat more palatable by the $3.85 million in annual parcel tax revenue thanks to last year’s narrowly voter-approved Measure B.
“Healthcare is going through huge changes,” Rymer told the Index-Tribune in a recent interview. “We’re a relatively small player – fighting to stay alive every day, every week, every month.” He said the cost-mitigating measures the district is considering are an effort to shore up revenues for the hospital’s most essential services.
“We can’t live without an emergency department,” Rymer said.
If he earns another four years on the board, Rymer said he would continue to push hospital management to “think proactively -- out into the future,” and acknowledge to the community that the recently renewed – and increased by $55 in 2017 – parcel tax is likely here to stay. “I don’t see a way to claw back from a $6.5 million loss” without it, he said about the district’s $250 per year levy through 2022.
If he had one message to voters, he says he “wishes people would remember how far this hospital has come in the last eight years.”
Warns Rymer: “We’re a nonprofit -- but that’s a tax designation. We can go out of business.”
Michael Mainardi is a retired gastroenterologist who’d practiced mainly in the South Bay before hanging up his colonoscope a few years back and moving to Sonoma. Since then he’s served four years on the SVH quality committee and currently chairs the board of the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center.