We've been down this twisting, winding, dangerous road before. Monetary losses plunged Tucson trauma into crisis two years ago with TMC trauma losing $3.3 million and UMC losing $1.5 million annually. The combined cost for the trauma centers was put at $22.8 million a year.
Legislators wrung their hands and provided temporary money with the help of Pima County's beleaguered, overburdened taxpayers. There was no sustained fix.
Tucson's emergency and trauma care providers experimented with a single center and learned that two are necessary. But TMC's trauma deficit has swelled to $5 million a year--at a time when the hospital has racked up other big losses.
Pima County Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry proposed a sensible solution way back in 2000: Tack on a surcharge to auto registration for the more than 1.1 million horseless carriages in Pima, Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Pinal and Santa Cruz counties. Huckelberry, a pragmatist, proposed a $4.50 charge on annual auto registration.
Try 10 bucks! Who cares? Who would bitch?
But the Huck was talking into the wind that is the Legislature. Sue Gerard, a Republican senator, tinkered instead with an additional tax on monthly telephone bills. Gerard, now the health policy adviser in Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano's bipartisan administration, pushed a 1.1 percent to 1.7 percent telephone tax, plus a flat monthly fee on phone bills of 37 cents to 46 cents.
We know people talk too much, but what does that--except for the dopes who dial, talk and conduct business on phones while driving--have to do with trauma?
Instead, Arizonans hoped that a skim from the Indian casinos would be the answer. Surprise: It isn't. Nor is the tobacco tax the panacea that it backers claimed it would be.
That brings us back to Huckelberry. Hit the gas.
CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH: Tucson's finest reporters, the Arizona Daily Star's Joe Burchell and Rhonda Bodfield--who "unearthed" grave scandal when they "discovered" rampant favoritism, patronage and price gouging (through contract amendments) in Pima County's botched transportation projects funded by bonds approved by voters in 1997--are back to give the county a clean bill of health on procurement policies.
Smilin' Joe and Rhonda should have checked out the Kino Community Hospital Web site a few days earlier. They would have seen a monster, 97-page request for a proposal to operate, beginning July 1, Pima County's biggest asset: the 26-year-old hospital. Who is going to respond in time for a July 1 takeover when the sole-source negotiation with University Physicians Inc. has gone sideways--first because of UPI's demand to get the county's current Kino subsidy of $12-$15 million annually, and second because the county is leaving UPI without an adequate medical staff?
County officials are hell-bent to turn Kino into a purely psychiatric hospital without an emergency room, without an operating room and without physicians who can clear patients. The county has invoked cancellation clauses with most of the Kino doctors. That will leave Kino without docs who could run tests to determine if someone is mentally disturbed or, say, just cranked on crack.
The goofy irony is that the county's burdensome bureaucracy and the inept Kino administration have long hampered the public's needs to hire qualified docs. Finally, if Joe and Rhonda and the Star were offended by the county's contracting practices for asphalt and concrete, they should have investigated the county's dirty little deal three years ago to tailor a request for proposals for anesthesiology--in such a twisted way as to get rid of the longstanding provider.
Now, Kino brass doesn't know what to do. Changing the hospital's license with the state Department of Health Services in not the walk in the park they predicted. And doctors who have given notice are now are being asked if they want to sign up for new tours of abuse.
The late Sam Lena, a Democratic supervisor of extraordinary grace and the patron saint of the county's health care system for the poor, is not spinning at Holy Hope. He's flipping.
MAYBE THEY'RE NOT SUCH POLITICAL HEAVYWEIGHTS AFTER ALL: The keen political minds at the mighty Sorry-Assed Homebuilders Association invited District 27 Rep. Jesse George to an upcoming meet-the-pols breakfast at the Doubletree Hotel.
Only problem: George lost the Democratic primary in back September 2002. Democrats Phil Lopes and Olivia Cajero Bedford represent District 27 in the House.
"I must have the longest absentee record in the history of the Arizona Legislature," says George.
NEVER MIND: Back when he was an associate superintendent under former state schools chief Jaime Molera, Scott Kirtley was loyal to his boss. So it was no surprise when Kirtley, a one-time local candidate for the Arizona Legislature who has dabbled in local GOP politics, was out of work after Molera lost to Republican Tom Horne, who spent about a half-mil of his own money to win the seat by demonizing bilingual ed.
Here's what was surprising: Kirtley, who has been called up from the reserve to fill in as a chief warrant officer at Fort Huachuca's U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School, got an invitation last week to serve on a new social studies preliminary task force aimed at providing "a more comprehensive and seamless flow of topics from the elementary grades to the high school years"--whatever that means.
Always willing to help out, Kirtley called up to check on the gig--and soon got a phone call back from Patricia Loughrin, an associate superintendent in research, standards and accountability, who swiftly withdrew the offer. And here Kirtley thought it was an olive branch --
HAPPY VALLEY: Opposition forces in the Tanque Verde Unified School District, fighting against construction of the district's first high school, have offered to drop their Superior Court battle and recall of Tanque Verde Board President Dr. Sherrylyn Young if Young and her majority will schedule a referendum on the high school. The group also promises to stop buttering up state Rep. Linda Gray, a Glendale Republican and other legislators who keep trying to kill state funding for the new high school.
Young and backers of the high school have repeatedly said that the previous, non-binding vote already showed support for the high school. Critics answer that the vote occurred before other relevant financial information came to light.
The Young majority held during a special 7:30 a.m. meeting last Friday and rejected the settlement offer.
Opponents need to know this: They are being played by the Tucson Unified School District. They are being wooed. But if they think their board majority is bad (it really wasn't in the four-hour session we witnessed this month) they need to check out TUSD and how badly it treats citizens, parents, students and faculty.
LISTEN UP: Anti-corporate subversives will be meeting for a training sessionon May 31 and bringing their wire cutters, soldering irons and long-nosed pliers with them.
While it would lead to an orange alert if they were learning the fine art of plastic explosives, wannabe terrorists will be disappointed. The anti-corporate news hounds at Tucson's Autonomous Media Center will be offering an equally powerful method of social rebellion with their "Build Your Own FM Transmitter" seminar.
Participants who're willing to fork out $130-$200 will receive a 1-Watt FM Transmitter kit from Free Radio Berkeley and training from 'experienced free radio technicians.' The event is at Las Sinfronteras on Congress and Sixth Avenue. For more info check out www.autonomousmedia.net or call (520) 628-8720.