Big stakes in Antelope Valley Hospital vote

By Dennis Anderson

At the Heart Sounds Ball to benefit Children’s Center of the Antelope Valley this past weekend, Dr. Larry Stock was delighted to be called up to the big stage at the AV Fairgrounds.

Several doctors from the Antelope Valley Hospital, Stock and doctors Mark Brown and Daniel Khodabakhsh were honored by Children’s Center Director Sue Page and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. The Children’s Center chief and the chair of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors thanked the veteran ER physicians at Antelope Valley Hospital for their support of the Children’s Center. Stock had a few remarks prepared, but galas run on a tight schedule. 

His notes said in part, “I feel a sense of history and community in a room full of leaders, and influencers.” 

Next, he recalled a front page newspaper article from 65 years ago.

“A living monument to the ingenuity, tenacity and the community spirit of the people of the Antelope Valley will be dedicated at the official opening of the new Antelope Valley Hospital,” the 1955 article stated.

Stock noted, “the people of the Antelope Valley came together and saved themselves. We always have to save ourselves up here.”

He recalled how a volunteer Community Board teamed to build the Children’s Center 32 years ago, which was sorely needed — then and now. Stock and his ER brethren feel the same urgency about a new AV Hospital for the 21st century. 

Heading into the March 3 election, and voting that starts Feb. 22 at new polling places, one big vote is Measure AV, whether the Antelope Valley decides to invest in a new hospital.

Since 1955, AV Hospital has provided care for a continuously growing region. Anyone familiar with the Valley’s major healthcare facility understands it needs to be replaced if it is to keep serving an area with more than a half-million people.

Antelope Valley Hospital no longer conforms with California’s seismic safety laws. The hospital’s Board, elected at large, have invested to upgrade facilities over the years, but it has been a patchwork in fits and starts. Planning for the future suffered.

As a newspaper editor in this Valley for 20 years, and 35-year resident, I have seen plans and pipe dreams of a new hospital falter. Building a new hospital requires public confidence and participation. 

Unless a new hospital is built by 2025, AV Hospital will face possible closure by the end of the decade, or no longer serve as a full-service hospital that takes all patients. Communities the hospital serves, from Acton to the Tehachapi, will lose a nonprofit health care option in reasonable distance.

Stock’s ER colleague Khodabakhsh, noted  AV Hospital “seeks to meet the needs of our community by offering necessary lines of service regardless of profitability. Examples of unprofitable lines of service are obstetrics, pediatrics, trauma, and mental health.” 

The AVH Emergency Room is just about Los Angeles County’s busiest, with 137,000 visits last year — nearly 40,000 more than Cedars-Sinai and more than 99.5% of hospitals nationwide.

“If you have been in our ER, you know it’s crowded, noisy, chaotic and we have a lot of patients in halls and in the lobby waiting,” Khodabakhsh said. “We leverage the little space and few beds we have and we move our patients around … and many of our patients sit in chairs. There is very little privacy.

People making the big decision on where they live consider quality of public schools, jobs, access to public services and quality of health care.

Although the region has two major hospitals, AV Hospital is not-for-profit. Every dollar it takes in must go to provide care. 

Paradoxically, AV Hospital never was on the tax rolls. To build a hospital for everyone Valley-wide is a decision to buy in as taxpayers. Assessed valuation cost would be around $7.50 a month, $90 a year. That’s a tax bond and investors would buy bonds to support the rest of $800 million needed.

The public will have the opportunity to vote on Measure AV on March 3. Information is available at www.new.avhospital.org

Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group and former Valley Press editor who derives no income or remuneration from either of Antelope Valley’s two hospitals. He specializes in veterans and community mental health issues.