Betty Stieringer remarks at May 4, 2015, board meeting

Updated at 3:50 p.m. May 5, 2015

Normally quiet and convivial, the semimonthly meeting of the Grossmont Healthcare District Board of Directors was roiled Monday morning when one member accused two others of conflicts of interest and alleged “Sharp’s successful takeover” of the La Mesa-based district.

Betty Stieringer, member of the Grossmont Healthcare District Board of Directors. Ken Stone photo

Betty Stieringer, a 75-year-old retired nurse, angered fellow directors Randy Lenac and Michael Emerson by saying their membership on the 15-member Sharp Grossmont Hospital Board of Directors puts them at odds with the public district’s interests.

“I think sometimes it can be a conflict of interest,” Stieringer said at a meeting where she failed to get a hearing on her resolution to halt work on Proposition G bond projects.

Lenac shot back: “I don’t know if this is your thought or somebody else’s, but the implication … offends me,” later calling it “offensive to my bones.”

“Me, too,” said Emerson, a member of the board since May 2008.

Stieringer offered no examples at the meeting but later did so via email. She didn’t back off: “I absolutely get that impression (of a conflict). I’m sorry, but there it is.”

Lenac, the newest director, and Emerson noted that the new 30-year lease with Sharp Grossmont Hospital (approved by voters last June with nearly 87 percent approval) carves out five seats on the private Sharp hospital board for district directors.

But only two actually sit on the board to avoid Brown Act violations. Stieringer chose former Assemblyman Jay LaSuer for the directorship in her stead. Sharp doesn’t pay the directors but the district does — at $100 a meeting.

On the elective Grossmont district board, members make about $500 a month.

Stieringer, wife of former longtime board member Jim Stieringer, also criticized the “very glowing” annual report of the Independent Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee, whose acronym members pronounce “ICK-bock.”

Betty Stieringer contends ICBOC overlooks serious financial problems in the 2006 voter-approved $247 million bond program — which she wanted to address through a halt-the-work resolution.

Randy Lenac, member of the Grossmont Healthcare District Board of Directors. Ken Stone photo

District officials disputed her, saying a recent $4 million pledge from Sharp officials and a $4 million windfall from Prop. G interest earned and “unneeded” bond issuance fee funds would cover any shortfall.

Jeff Scott, the district’s lawyer, told Stieringer the taxpayer-funded agency has a financial “safety net” from Sharp. He said the board will review project contracts come September.

“You’ll have the opportunity to make an informed, prudent and appropriate decision” on projects that need funding, Scott said.

Replied Stieringer: “I still feel we’re overreaching…. I don’t want to deplete the district — because we need it for other things as well.”

Her comments came after the district presented an oversized check for $150,000 to a woman representing Volunteers in Medicine, a nonprofit that builds free primary health care clinics for the uninsured.

Stieringer’s resolution noted long delays in at least three major hospital projects (even with one project listed in the bond, the $7.5 million Health Occupations Training Center, having been dropped).

She listed delayed projects as being the East Tower, the Central Energy Plant and the Heart and Vascular Center.

Emerson, who said his district service began with a stint on the ICBOC, disputed the notion that bond overseers lacked financial information.

Michael Emerson, member of the Grossmont Healthcare District Board of Directors. Ken Stone photo

“They very much know what they’re doing,” he said, arguing that he attends all ICBOC meetings and will “answer any questions.”

Stieringer also provoked the ire of her colleagues by alleging “sometimes I think we’re a little too close to those [at Sharp Grossmont Hospital] we are supposed to help regulate. … Everything they [want us to] do is approved” by the district board.

“If they want something, it happens,” she said. “There’s never been a no.”

Director Gloria Chadwick, also a registered nurse and board member since 1998, disputed that, saying: “We publicly didn’t allow [the hospital] to close Pediatrics.”

To which Stieringer replied: “Pediatrics is not being used hardly at all.”

Chadwick: “I’m very much aware of what’s going on there,” later stressing: “Don’t say we’re pushovers, because we’re not.”

She urged Stieringer to “have faith and trust in your [fellow] board members.”

Board President Bob Ayres, a retired banker and member since September 2010, said: “Let’s not overlook the fact that Sharp … has funded almost an equal amount in improvement projects of their own.”

He called the Grossmont Healthcare District “a prime example of how well a public-private partnership can work. It’s a good model.”

Bob Ayres, president of the Grossmont Healthcare District Board of Directors. Ken Stone photo

After Stieringer’s motion to discuss her resolution died for a lack of a second, she told Times of San Diego she was bothered by not getting the board “on record.”

Why didn’t other board members share her fears about bond dollars running dry?

“People look through rosy-colored glasses,” she said. “[They] fail to step back and take a look at the real picture.”

Earlier at the meeting, which started at 7:30 a.m. at district headquarters near the hospital, Prop. G money issues were presented by Project Director Dave Suydam.*

Suydam displayed several screens on Prop. G project budgets and one on the status of contingency funds that project “worst-case” scenarios. One budget chart indicated a possible shortfall of $9.93 million.

Gloria Chadwick, member of Grossmont Healthcare District Board of Directors. Ken Stone photo

The district continues to sell bonds (at a credit rating near the best in Moody’s summation) and hopes bids on remaining work are reasonable.

In a series of actions, the board voted 4-1 (with Stieringer the dissenter each time) to approve spending a total of $4.2 million to cover cost overruns, with $4 million going to the Central Energy Project alone.

Betty later addressed possible suspicions that her husband, who turned 74 on Sunday, had an undue influence on her decisions.

“The influence I have here is my own,” she said. “Jim is the kind of person who … tries to influence others. But I make my own decisions. I absolutely do.”

Board President Ayres said: “Jim’s a member of the public. He can come and speak if he wants,” observing that Jim Stieringer wasn’t in the six-member audience.

Later Monday, Jim Stieringer sent Times of San Diego email noting the “silence” of the ICBOC annual report on the elimination of the Health Occupation Training Center.

“The estimated cost of HOTC is $7.5 [million] to $12.5 [million], all of which will be ‘reprogrammed’ into other projects more important to Sharp,” he wrote. “HOTC is the ONLY Prop. G project that wouldn’t be turned over to Sharp as part of its lease.”

The meeting had its olive-leaf moments as well.

At one point, director Emerson told Stieringer: “If nothing else happens today, I would like you to help me help you feel better about what [the board] is doing” on behalf of what he called “our East County jewel of a hospital.”

“You can call on me any time,” he said.

After the meeting, Betty Stieringer said the meeting had been the most “contentious” of her 2 1/2-year tenure.

“I do get passionate at meetings,” she said, “but we’re all friends. … They’ll get over it.”

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the speaker. This story also erred in calling Stieringer the newest board member. Lenac is.

“Worst-case” budget numbers shown at May 4 board meeting included red-circled figures of deficits. Ken Stone photo
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