The quiet bustle outside of Eisenhower Medical Center’s medical campus in Rancho Mirage was disturbed by the old-school call and response of an organizer’s bullhorn and a crowd of protesters on the morning of Thursday, March 2.
“What do we want?” shouted Joe Barnes, the California outreach manager for Compassion and Choices, a national advocacy group for terminally ill patients.
The crowd of 100 or so enthusiastic supporters of the California End of Life Option Act responded: “Access!”
Barnes continued: “When do we want it?”
“Now!” hollered the crowd.
The protest on the sidewalks alongside the Bob Hope Drive entrance to EMC was organized by, and for, Coachella Valley residents frustrated by the refusal of EMC administrators to allow any of their doctors, other professional staff members and facilities to participate in the new state law, which lays out the strict guidelines under which patients can obtain life-ending prescriptions, should they so choose. (Full disclosure: My mother-in-law utilized the law last year.)
Signs were waved; short and impassioned speeches were given; chants were raised; and then the group headed into the hospital building to meet with an EMC representative.
“We encourage members of our communities to speak with their doctors about what their priorities are at the end of their life, and really become a team with their doctors rather than accepting everything that the medical community just pushes out to them,” said Joan Stucker, the chairperson of the Coachella Valley Access Team for Compassion and Choices, to the Independent during the rally. “We have a hold-up (in patient access to End of Life Option services) with Eisenhower Hospital, because their doctors are employed by the hospital, and even though some of their physicians want to give their patients access, they (EMC leaders) refuse to let them do that. We want them to change that position.”
The other major-health care provider in our valley, Tenet Healthcare, operates the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, the JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio, and the Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree. These facilities will not be a target of pro-End of Life Option demonstrations, because Tenet administrators recently clarified publicly that they will allow their personnel, including doctors in their networks, to support a patient’s End of Life Act rights.
The newly released official policy statement stipulates that any Tenet personnel who choose to engage in the End of Life Option procedures must record patient interactions in the Tenet health records systems. While Tenet physicians may write prescriptions for the life-ending drugs described in the California law, patients may not fill those prescriptions in Tenet pharmacies, or take those drugs in any of Tenet facilities.
Tenet is clearly doing more to address the needs of the terminally ill patients than EMC, which refuses to cooperate with the California law on any level.
“It just doesn’t seem that they (EMC) are providing the good care that they claim to give,” Stucker said. “They’re supposed to give incredible care to their patients, and yet they’re refusing to let them have this option.”
Idyllwild resident and EMC patient Francoise Frigola turned out for the rally.
“I asked my doctor what her position was (regarding the End of Life Option Act), and she was furious,” Frigola explained while leaning forward in her wheelchair. “She was part of writing the law, and because she’s affiliated with Eisenhower down here, she cannot do anything.”
Barnes told the Independent that he spoke with an EMC representative before the rally and told her: “‘You know, if you did what you said you were going to do, then we wouldn’t have this rally here today.’ Last fall, Compassion and Choices spoke to EMC representatives, who told us that they would make public outreach efforts and hold a town hall-style meeting where patients could state their concerns. But they never did anything.”
We asked Stucker what steps would next be taken regarding the lack of End of Life Option access at EMC.
“We know that getting access to medical aid in dying takes time. We know there’s a certain amount of resistance,” Stucker said. “It’s very difficult, because physicians and hospitals have not really been trained in end-of-life care. They’re very uncomfortable doing something that they’ve actually been trained not to do. But Eisenhower Medical Center is such a major player in local health care, serving a lot of patients all over the valley. We think it’s only right that their patients have a chance to get access (to medical aid in dying assistance) with the physicians that they are seeing.”
- Dori Smith Dori Smith
- Francoise Frigola Francoise Frigola
- Joan Stucker Joan Stucker
- Joe Barnes Joe Barnes
- I Want This Option I Want This Option
- Peace of Mind Peace of Mind
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act in October 2015, and the law went into effect on June 9, 2016.
But for many Coachella Valley residents who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a prognosis of less than six months to live, the end-of-life option remains out of grasp—that is, unless they switch health providers.
Trust me, I know: I helped my mother-in-law through the end-of-life process last year.
No statistics are available yet regarding the number of Coachella Valley patients who have obtained prescriptions for life-ending medications since the law took effect; the initial annual report required by the law will not be issued until later this year. But according to patient, doctor and advocate feedback, the refusal of some major health-care providers in our valley to support the new law has been keeping those numbers down. Eisenhower Medical Center (EMC), with facilities located across the valley, and both Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs and JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio (the latter two owned by Tenet Health, a company based in Dallas) have been refusing assistance to terminally ill patients.
However, this picture improved in mid-February, when Tenet Health informed Compassion and Choices—a national nonprofit “medical aid in dying” advocacy organization—that the company had established a “regulatory compliance policy to define the scope of permitted participation, documentation and notification requirements for Tenet entities” in California.
Compassion and Choices California director Matt Whitaker welcomed the news.
“Tenet confirmed that their physicians are indeed allowed to participate in the (End of Life Option) act,” Whitaker wrote the Independent in an email.
Curiously, the written policy just delivered by Tenet was dated June 7, 2016. What could have caused the eight-month communication delay?
“The good news is that they (Tenet) are going to allow individuals to have access to medical aid in dying,” said Joe Barnes, the Compassion and Choices California outreach manager, during a recent phone interview. “It sounds like they are probably still having challenges about whether or not to allow people who are being treated in their hospitals to be able to be in a private hospital room surrounded by loved ones and ingest the medication to end their pain and suffering.”
Barnes said many health-care organizations are still figuring out the logistics of dealing with the new law.
“It seems some health-care systems are still working out the internal mechanics of how they are addressing the needs of their patients,” he said. “Sometimes, one side of the hospital is not communicating with the other side, and then the patient doesn’t receive the correct information. But we try to follow up with health-care systems to see what their questions might be if they have any, and also to find out what their official policy is. If a health-care system doesn’t have a written policy, then they are automatically considered a supportive health-care system.”
While Tenet is taking steps toward assisting patients with the law, EMC is apparently not. I contacted Lee Rice, the media coordinator and public relations specialist at EMC, to talk with an appropriate representative regarding the End of Life Option Act. After several days, Rice replied that no interview could be arranged. He did, however, forward to me an official statement, which read, in part: “Eisenhower Medical Center carefully reviewed and discussed the requirements of the End of Life Option Act and elected the option under the act not to participate in the process. … Eisenhower will provide information about the End of Life Option Act upon request and supports each patient’s right to make decisions about care, including the choice to accept or reject treatments that might be available.”
Compassion and Choices’ Whitaker expressed disappointment with EMC’s stance.
“We would characterize Tenet’s policy as supportive, but not Eisenhower’s,” Whitaker said. “The line that (Eisenhower representatives) keep using is that their physicians are free to do this on their own time. That’s the framing they use to say that they’re not limiting access for patients in the area: ‘We (EMC) are only limiting it during the time that they’re employed by us.’ But the way that health care has consolidated, EMC has 40-something clinics that have affiliated with them in the area, so there are not a lot of sole practitioners out there—and for folks who work in a hospital or an outpatient clinic, they don’t really have the ability to do things on their own time. They don’t have their own medical-records system. Oftentimes, their malpractice insurance is through their employer. They don’t have the physical facilities available to care for these patients. So (EMC) is kind of a broken record when they just keep pushing back, saying, ‘Well, the doctors can do it on their own time.’ That’s not what’s needed. Patients who are being seen by doctors at these clinics need to be able to receive this treatment during the course of their care.”
In an effort to influence EMC’s stance, Compassion and Choices supporters and other valley residents are planning a rally at 11 a.m., Thursday, March 2, in front of the main Eisenhower Medical Center campus in Rancho Mirage.
“Ever since Eisenhower Medical Center announced that it wasn’t going to allow people to have access to medical aid in dying, there’s been an increase in the requests for presentations to community groups and organizations across the area,” Barnes said. “The question always comes up as to what the community can do, because that’s (one of the) the flagship hospitals in the area.
“We have thousands of people who are supportive of medical aid in dying in that area. They helped us pass the law in the first place by reaching out to their local legislators and holding events to educate fellow community members to the importance of medical aid in dying. So, the natural next step is that the folks want to have a rally in front of the hospital. Many of the people who will be at the rally are also donors to the Eisenhower (Medical Center) Foundation. They’re kind of scratching their heads, because they live in the community and donate to the hospital but can’t get access to medical aid in dying, and they really don’t understand it.”
Coachella Valley got a break from stormy weather on Saturday, as predicted—but the sunshine didn’t necessarily translate into better play across the three enjoyable La Quinta courses of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
However, it did if your name was Adam Hadwin. Playing at the La Quinta Country Club, Hadwin became only the second player in the tournament’s long history—and the eighth in PGA Tour history—to shoot a 59.
“I think it makes tomorrow harder,” Hadwin, a Canadian, said in his post-round interview. “They say one of hardest things in golf is to follow up a low round. The Stadium Course is a much tougher course than La Quinta. It’s a Sunday. I’ve got a chance to win a golf tournament. That’s what you want.”
The feat vaulted him into a one-shot lead at the close of play on Sunday.
Meanwhile, other players—including local favorite Brendan Steele, as well as Hudson Swafford and Dominic Bozzelli—who had been standing near the top of the leaderboard for the first two days managed to post scores that kept them in the running. New tournament ambassador Phil Mickelson struggled a bit on the PGA West Stadium Course, and found himself heading in the wrong direction on Saturday, shooting a one-over-par 73.
The stage was set for what was predicted to be a soggy and potentially chaotic finish on Sunday, when all the players who survived the cut would congregate at the Stadium Course for a battle to the finish. As had been the case on Friday, the weather forecasts for Sunday were so threatening that the tee time for the entire field was moved up an hour, to 7:30 a.m., in hopes that the early start would allow golf to be completed before the third major storm of the weekend bore down on the valley.
As the final rounds began, 12 players were within five shots of the lead. Even though the rain did stay away, risk aversion seemed to be the strategy adopted by many players at the front of the pack, as they showed uncharacteristic restraint while playing the notoriously dangerous layout at PGA West. In the end, early-round leader Hudson Swafford’s 5-under 67 won the tournament, with his two biggest birdies coming on the 16th and 17th holes as he let loose his power game.
It was his first career victory on the PGA Tour. “They don’t give them away out here,” Swafford told the media after his win. “It’s not easy. I've been close. I’ve been in the hunt lately, and this just feels unbelievable.”
Earlier in the day, CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson and Desert Classic Charities president and chairman of the board John Foster sat down with reporters to talk about the future of the event, which has long been a staple of the valley’s sporting season. Ferguson was asked if the presence of Roger Clemens and Joe Carter portended a return to the star-studded celebrity fields that came out to join Bob Hope when it was his tournament.
“It was nice that Roger and other celebrities came out and played (this year),” Ferguson said. “I mean, I’m never going to recruit like Bob Hope. I think that was a unique individual and a unique time. But I think as we have more years to plan and talk to people, and more celebrities want to come out, we’d love to have them.”
Foster said he was hoping to build more excitement with the tourney. “I think you’ll see Phil (Mickelson) getting a little more involved,” he said. “Already, there’ve been a number of changes. A lot of things you saw (this past weekend), like Fitz and the Tantrums (who played a concert on the driving range after play on Saturday evening), were kind of like experiments. I think everybody who we’ve seen was very excited, and it lit a nice fire. We would probably look to enlarge that aspect a little. We’re a golf tournament first, but we’re entertaining guests to raise money for charity.”
- Adam Hadwin and His Historic Round Adam Hadwin and His Historic Round
- Brendan Steele, Local Boy Brendan Steele, Local Boy
- CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson
- Desert Classic Charities' John Foster Desert Classic Charities' John Foster
- Hudson Swafford Swings Hudson Swafford Swings
- Hudson Swafford: The Champ Hudson Swafford: The Champ
- An Owl from The Living Desert An Owl from The Living Desert
- Kids' Play Kids' Play
- Wine Time Wine Time
- Cloudy Weather Cloudy Weather
As I pulled on my rain boots before driving to PGA West at 6 a.m., Friday, Jan. 20, a KMIR meteorologist on the TV screen was issuing a warning about the continuous and dangerous weather that would soon engulf the Coachella Valley.
However, the rain was late to arrive at the “U.S. politics-free zone” media center at PGA West’s Stadium Course. There were persistent showers as play began on Thursday, but for the most part, mixed clouds and sunshine on the first two days of play provided a beautiful and dramatic backdrop for some sterling play on the three La Quinta courses. In fact, as of the halfway point in play, the only party to suffer from the incessant forecasts of terrible weather was the resurgent 2017 PGA CareerBuilder Challenge Tournament itself: Spectators and fans had been scarce, and that’s not good news for the concessions and vendors who have seen very few customers.
The adventurous attendees who ignored the warnings were treated to a number of entertaining opportunities. It’s not often that a fan can enjoy an up-close-and-personal vantage point to watch perennial crowd favorite Phil Mickelson play. Normally surrounded by hundreds of fans wherever he goes, Mickelson teed off on Friday at the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course in front of about two dozen spectators. This past offseason, he accepted the role of golfing ambassador for this tournament, and this week marks his first competitive rounds since his knee surgery. Much to the pleasure of his many supporters, he finished Day 2 tied for sixth place, just four shots off the lead.
In other news, some big-name baseball celebrities joined the amateur field this year. Multiple-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens is playing, as is slugger Joe Carter, best remembered for winning the 1993 World Series with a walk-off home run for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Local PGA favorite Brendan Steele from Idyllwild is here again. Already a winner at the Safeway Open in this PGA wrap-around season that’s just begun, Steele shot an 8-under-par 64 on Friday to put him just two shots back of leader, Hudson Swafford, who carded back-to-back 65s. Should Swafford hold on to win, it would give him his very first PGA victory. Last year’s winner, Jason Dufner, is back, too, along with many of the tour’s top players.
Just before play wound down on Friday, it began pouring. The good news is that Saturday’s weather was expected to be clear and dry. Alas, more rain is in the forecast for Sunday.
- Brendan Steele Brendan Steele
- Hudson Swafford Hudson Swafford
- Joe Carter Joe Carter
- Jason Dufner Jason Dufner
- Tent and the Course Tent and the Course
- The Clouds The Clouds
- Phil Mickelson Phil Mickelson
- Mickelson in the Sand Mickelson in the Sand
- Mickelson in the Swing Mickelson in the Swing
- Roger Clemens Roger Clemens
A recent review of the budgets of all nine Coachella Valley cities confirms what multiple sources have mentioned over the last several months: The costs of providing police and fire protection have been rising every year—and could soon become a worrisome financial burden.
“About 50 percent of our general-fund budget at this time goes specifically to public safety,” Coachella City Councilmember V. Manuel Perez told the Independent in a recent interview. “In the course of the last few years, public-safety expenses have increased between 5 and 7 percent every year.
“The passing of Measure U a couple of years ago, which was a 1 percent sales-tax increase, is the only reason why … we’ve been able to sustain ourselves—and we understand that these annual (public-safety cost) increases are going to continue.”
With 50 percent of the general fund being allocated to public safety, Coachella falls in the middle of the pack, as far as valley cities go. Given different accounting methods, a direct comparison is difficult to make. However, Indian Wells is at the low end, spending about 35 percent of its general fund on public safety, while Cathedral City is on the high end, around 65 percent.
This is not just a problem here in the Coachella Valley, and studies have been done across the country over the past decade in an effort to determine what’s driving the trend in rising public-safety costs, even when adjusted for inflation. But because there so many variables at play, these studies have not uncovered a single root cause.
In the Coachella Valley, five cities—Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Coachella and Indian Wells—contract out public-safety service to Riverside County and Cal Fire, while the other four cities—Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs and Indio—still maintain independent police departments. Only Palm Springs and Cathedral City have independent fire departments. Yet independence does not seem to be an indicator of how large a city’s budget allocation will be, since Palm Springs comes in on the low end at about a 45 percent budget allotment, with Cathedral City on the high end at 65 percent.
Back in 2013, Desert Hot Springs was in the midst of a financial crisis and explored outsourcing services to the county. “We were looking at our police force and what we could do either with the sheriff’s department or keeping our own police department,” said Mayor Scott Matas, who was a City Council member at the time. “When the sheriff’s department’s initial bid came in to us, it appeared that it was a couple of million dollars less. But after the interim police chief and his staff tore the bid apart and compared apples to apples, when the sheriff’s department came back for a second round, we found out it was actually going to cost us $1 million more, so it was pretty much a no-brainer for us to keep our own police department.”
Desert Hot Springs is now on better financial footing. “Recently, we actually gave a little bit back to the police department, which was cut by upwards of 22 percent when the fiscal crisis was going on,” Matas said. “It’s been nice to keep our own police force. It’s more personable when it comes to your community policing, because you have the same police officers there. When you contract out, you never know what that face is going to be. We have that issue with our county fire contract. We’re very fortunate that some of the firefighters who work in this community have been here a long time, but for the most part, they rotate in and out all the time, so you never have that same chief, or you never have the same firefighters.”
Indio City Council member Glenn Miller, who has also served as the city’s mayor, touted the benefits of Indio having its own police force.
“About 80 percent of the police officers working with us live in our city,” Miller said. “We have a large contingent that is home-grown, and then a lot of them have moved into the city, including our police chief, Michael Washburn, who came from Seattle. So they are vested in the city, and that does us a lot of good. … When they live in our neighborhoods, they get to know those communities.”
What solutions are mayors and city councilmembers looking at to keep public-safety spending in check?
“When it comes to county fire, they’ve just been given larger pay increases, which then trickles down to the people who contract with them,” said Matas, the DHS mayor. “We were hoping to open another fire station eventually, but now we’re looking at just trying to keep the staffing that we have. … It’s always a challenge with public safety. We’ve been very fortunate with our police services. Crime is down. We’ve got a great chief (Dale Mondary), and we’re working in a great direction, but with this fire budget coming up, I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”
Coachella’s V. Manuel Perez said there’s no way his city can keep pace with the public-safety cost increases as things stand now.
“We have to figure out how we can work with other valley contracting cities to come up with a long-term solution for this problem,” Perez said. “Maybe we can come up with some sort of (joint powers authority) between the cities to support an agreement to help pay for public safety.”
Newly elected La Quinta City Councilmember Steve Sanchez agreed that it’s worth exploring whether the valley’s cities should join forces … perhaps literally.
“I think that’s something we need to discuss amongst all our council members,” Sanchez said. “We need to look at all options, whether it’s (joining forces with) Indio or other cities, or if it’s just staying with the sheriff’s department—whichever makes the most sense.”
Miller said East Valley cities have already started talking about working together more.
“When I was serving as the mayor of Indio, up until the end of this last year, we discussed with (La Quinta Mayor) Linda Evans and (Coachella Mayor) Steve Hernandez the possibility of doing an East Valley coalition plan that would include combining police and parks, and … making a better community overall by working together as one. We could lower costs for each individual city by economies of scale. Also, we talked about economic development, youth programs and senior programs. Not that we were going to give up our autonomy, but we’re looking at ways we could partner up to get a bigger bang for our buck, and maybe do better for our residents by being able to provide additional services.
“With public safety, we’d look at what we could do, since we’re right next to each other, to institute a regional police force. It’s something that we’re open to. You never shut the door on any option.”
Linda is my wife, my best friend. She’s the daughter of Annette, who had been battling cancer for years.
Fifteen months prior to this August 2016 morning, Annette, then 93, had come to live out her last days with us in our Palm Desert home. Now, Linda stood at the foot of her mother’s bed and spoke softly to our cat, who had stretched herself out across Annette’s lower legs.
“Lola, honey, come on now,” Linda cajoled. “You have to get up, sweetie. Mom-mom’s no longer here. She’s gone now.”
Lola stayed put with her chin on her crossed front paws. It seemed that nothing or no one could disturb this quiet, calm and peaceful scene.
Thanks to California’s End of Life Option Act, Annette had just left behind the painful captivity of the cancer that had progressively destroyed her quality of life.
This peaceful day came after one of the most trying 15 months of our lives.
“Mom was diagnosed as having six months or less to live, and was in hospice care when she came to stay with us,” Linda recalled. “At this point, she never had a day when she felt well. So, when the End of Life Option became legal in California,” on June 9, 2016, after being signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2015, “she decided that she wanted to participate in it. I went online and did a lot of research.”
Linda quickly learned the process was not going to be easy.
“What I found was that none of the hospitals out here (in the Coachella Valley) were participating in providing their patients with the support to obtain the life-ending prescriptions,” Linda said. “And that meant that none of the doctors out here, as far as I knew, were participating.”
Linda has directed information-research departments for major media and advertising companies—so her online search skills are well-honed, to say the least. However, she could find no local leads for resources to contact on her mom’s behalf.
“Actually, that isn’t uncommon, because doctors don’t want to advertise that they participate in this program,” Linda said. “I had been in contact with people in Oregon and other states where (medical aid in dying) had been legal for a while. That’s where I started to see what had come before: Doctors don’t want to be seen as ‘Dr. Kevorkians’ or doctors of death, so there are no lists. Even in places where it has been legal for 18 years, there’s no list for doctors who are participating. You have to talk to your own doctor.
“During my research, though, I came upon the organization Compassion and Choices, and I contacted them,” Linda said. “I asked if they had any contacts in California who could help us access this option, and they said that the only thing they knew was that Kaiser Permanente was participating—which meant, to me, our only recourse was Kaiser.”
Amy Thoma, the director of public affairs for Kaiser Permanente, recently talked to me about Kaiser’s participation.
“We allow our physicians to participate in California’s End of Life Option Act,” Thoma said. “Physician participation is not mandatory. Also, we allow it in other regions such as Washington and Oregon, where it’s been an option for a while now. We encourage our patients to have thoughtful discussions with their loved ones, family and friends, as well as their health-care providers, about their end-of-life wishes so that they can have whatever dignified ending they choose.”
I asked what Kaiser does to “market” the fact that it allows patients and their doctors to participate in the End of Life Option Act.
“Health plans in general are not allowed to market the End of Life Option Act in California,” Thoma said. “It’s prohibited by (the End of Life Option) law, so we do not market it to our patients at all.”
Thoma referred me to Compassion and Choices for a broader discussion about medical-provider systems in California and their participation in the End of Life Option Act. Therefore, I reached out to Matt Whitaker, the newly appointed California state director for Compassion and Choices. We asked him whether the lack of support by the medical industry in our area was atypical.
“I would say that the Coachella Valley is pretty unique in the way that there is really no access to medical providers supporting the End of Life Option Act program,” Whitaker said. “In most of the population centers across California, you have the few religiously affiliated hospitals and organizations that made the decision not to participate, but you don’t see the majority of health systems choosing not to participate.”
In particular, he focused on the fact that Eisenhower Medical Center, one of the major health-care providers in our valley, has chosen not to offer End of Life Option services—nor is Eisenhower permitting any associated doctors to participate.
“They are not religiously affiliated,” Whitaker said. “We know from our work in the community that they have a large number of doctors who want to participate and who were super-upset when the decision not to do so came down, because there wasn’t much stakeholder engagement at all prior to making that decision.”
Last summer, Linda began taking steps for Annette to move from her existing insurance plan and health-care network to the Kaiser Permanente universe.
“Mom had Medicare insurance, so what we needed to do was change her supplemental insurance to Kaiser,” Linda said. “Fortunately, if you are on Medicare, Kaiser offers open enrollment at any time, all year. … But before we joined Kaiser, I called them, and we went over everything. They told me that (providing End of Life services in California) was new to them, and that they were hiring an end-of-life coordinator for Riverside County who would take us through the entire process. So we cancelled Mom’s supplemental policy in the middle of the month, and by the first of the next month, she was on Kaiser. She got a senior (citizen) insurance plan that had no monthly fee to be paid.”
It became very obvious, very quickly, that the Riverside County end-of-life coordinator’s support was an invaluable resource provided by Kaiser. The two of them worked as a team on Annette’s behalf in the weeks ahead.
“Once I got in contact with the new and extremely helpful coordinator, she reviewed for me the criteria necessary for a terminally ill patient to qualify for the End of Life Option in California,” Linda said. “You have to prove that you are a resident of California; you need to have a diagnosis of six months or less to live; you have to demonstrate that you are in your right mind and not suffering from depression; and you must be able to self-administer the prescribed medications. Also, you must be able to confirm, both in writing and orally, that you are personally in agreement with the decision to follow this end-of-life course of action.”
The California law also stipulates that two doctors must be involved in the process of granting permission to obtain the life-ending medications.
“The coordinator told me that there would be a first-opinion doctor who Mom would see initially, and who would then evaluate her again at least 15 days following that initial in-person appointment,” Linda said. “During that interim period, she would have to visit another doctor in person for a second opinion.”
Because Kaiser’s operations in support of the End of Life Option Act in California were just beginning, there were no existing relationships with doctors in their network who had elected to participate in the program. Originally, the coordinator was able to find doctors—but they were hours away from Palm Desert. “I told her that Mom was in no shape to make those trips,” Linda said. “I explained to her that we weren’t in a rush, but that we needed to find doctors close to our home in Palm Desert.
“She found us the first-opinion doctor at the Kaiser Indio facility, and the second doctor was in Palm Springs.”
At this point, Annette was given a form that she had to complete in preparation for her initial doctor visit, and appointments were made for the first two doctor visits.
“When we saw the first doctor, it was not a long trip to Indio, and the visit was rather short,” Linda said. “(My mom) gave him the completed form, and he reviewed her medical history. Then he interviewed Mom to make sure that this was her choice, and that it wasn’t a case of anyone trying to talk her into it. He asked why she wanted to pursue this end-of-life option. She told him that she suffered from two types of cancer and never had a day when she felt well.
“Less than a week later, we had an appointment to see the second-opinion doctor in the Palm Springs Kaiser office. He asked her another bunch of questions: When was she diagnosed? What illness did she have? Was she in pain? He talked to her about other things to confirm that she was coherent and in her right mind, and that it was her choice to do this. Also, he asked if she was capable of self-administering the drugs.
“Finally, Annette had her return consultation with the first-opinion doctor. Shortly thereafter, he was able to prescribe the necessary medications.”
The cost of these medications to the patient can vary, depending on the type of insurance; in fact, the drugs can be quite expensive. However, Kaiser may be able to help a patient find financial aid if he or she can prove financial hardship.
At this stage, the coordinator made an appointment for Linda to meet with a Kaiser pharmacist manager for the drugs to be delivered into the possession of either the patient or his/her representative, and to review—in detail—the procedure for administering the drugs.
“In our case, I met him at the Moreno Valley Kaiser facility,” Linda said. “He explained that there would be three separate drugs to be ingested to complete the end-of-life protocol, and he described in great detail the procedure for taking them to ensure the intended result.”
Everything was ready for Annette to make a final decision. The process—from the time she joined Kaiser to the time when we received the life-ending drugs—took no longer than 60 days.
“It’s important to note that the patient can change his or her mind at any time during this process,” Linda said. “Even if they have obtained the prescribed medications, they can change their mind. It seems that only approximately 30 percent of the people who receive the medications actually follow through and take them. … A lot of people change their mind.
“It gives you the option to control your own passing, and that is a wonderful thing.”
Dr. Wayne McKinny is a retired pediatrician and a resident of Desert Hot Springs. He’s also a hospice patient, diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer.
In the last six months, he has written two opinion pieces published in the local press. Both decried the refusal of our valley’s three major hospitals—Eisenhower Medical Center, Desert Regional Medical Center and John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital—to participate in or allow any of their associated doctors to participate in End of Life Option medical support. He is currently working with Compassion and Choices on their efforts to get these large medical organizations to support the law—and their patients’ desires.
“Having this right available is emotional insurance for a dying patient,” Dr. McKinny told the Independent. “They know they have it, and that they won’t have any problem, and they can use it. Likewise, it’s emotional insurance for a person who does not choose this option initially, because they know that if they change their mind, they would be able to get the option somewhat easily.”
How can terminally ill and despairing patients in our valley get access to the right to choose the circumstances of their passing?
“The choices that have been made by Coachella Valley health-care systems are not reflective of the attitude of the people in the community,” said Whitaker, of Compassion and Choices. “That’s what we’re really trying to make sure those hospitals there know. Hospitals and health systems are a community resource like libraries, churches or community centers. They exist to serve their communities. For example, during the (statewide) campaign to get the End of Life Option Act passed into law, there was a huge amount of support out of the Coachella Valley. There were a lot of people who did organizing and advocacy to make the option available, and so I think that’s where a lot of the current community disappointment comes from. There’s this population there that clearly wants this option, but the bulk of the apparatus (of medical providers) that is there to serve the community isn’t doing it.
Whitaker said his organization has had several hundred people call Eisenhower Medical Center to voice their disappointment.
“We’ve tried to approach the issue with as much civility as possible, but it’s gotten to the point where people who are interested in pushing back should go to our website and sign up to volunteer and add their name to our list,” he said. “We will be holding rallies and community meetings. We have an organizer in Southern California, and the Coachella Valley is an area with a big bull’s-eye on it for him, because we need to get people out and empowered and making some noise about this issue.”
Neither Linda nor I will ever forget that August day when Annette, who had been sick and in pain for so long, chose to end her life
“On the morning that Mom chose to follow through on her decision, we sat her on the edge of her own bed in her own room,” Linda said. “We followed carefully the process the pharmacist had described. The first drug she took was an anti-nausea medication to ease the ingestion of the other drugs in the quantities prescribed. Then, about 45 minutes later, the second drug was taken; it was a beta-blocker intended to slow down the heart rate. Then about another 15 minutes later, Mom took a large dose of Seconal, which would cause death. We had opened up 90 capsules and mixed their contents into one half-cup of applesauce, which she ate. (It could be mixed into juice or other items that the pharmacist approves.) The pharmacist had emphasized that Mom had to follow the procedure closely, and that there was a certain timeframe in which the drugs had to be completely consumed to avoid any mishaps.
“After she finished taking the last of the Seconal, we helped her lie down on the bed and made her comfortable. I had an aide, who Mom had grown close to, helping me that morning, and it was a very good idea to have her there. It’s good to have someone there with you for support.
“Very quickly, like after 30 seconds, Mom closed her eyes and drifted into a peaceful sleep. Her breathing was a little labored, but that was pretty much normal for her at that point. And then in about 20 minutes, with no gasping for breath or anything, she just stopped breathing. And it was so peaceful. It was really incredibly peaceful. She had her favorite cat with her, and it was just a beautiful death. She wanted it to be very quiet. We had put her in very comfortable clothes, and it was very beautiful.
“It’s the way we all should die.”
To enroll in a Kaiser Permanente health plan and/or to receive information about their End of Life Option services, call 800-464-4000. For more information about the End of Life Option Act, visit www.compassionandchoices.org/california.
- death with dignity
- death with dignity act
- end of life decisions
- california end of life option act
- end of life option act
- assisted suicide
- annette schiller
- amy thoma
- kaiser permanente
- compassion and choices
- matt whitaker
- eisenhower medical center
- desert regional medical center
- jfk memorial hospital
- wayne mckinny
If you’re a casual golfer like me, you have undoubtedly seen signals that seem to portend an uncertain future for public golf courses, private golf clubs and golf retail outlets here in Coachella Valley.
When booking a tee time online, you may see more available slots—and cheaper rates—than there used to be. You may hear conversations about a certain club that’s eliminating all ladies’ golf events this season because of the dearth of female members. Then you hear about another club where revenue has fallen so low that the owners are poised to close it down and sell to real estate developers.
In La Quinta, the citizens and their City Council are struggling to create a viable community development to support the beautiful SilverRock golf course. Earlier this year, Lumpy’s, which had been serving the local golfing community for some 30 years, closed both its outlets in Rancho Mirage and La Quinta.
Meanwhile, golf remains a vital part of our local economy. Organizations such as the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership point out frequently that the golf industry’s impact on the local economic balance sheet is sizable and therefore critical to our valley’s economic stability.
In an effort to find out what’s going on, the Independent recently sat down with Craig Kessler, the director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association; he’s the organization’s resident expert on all aspects of the golf industry’s longtime presence in our valley. We asked Kessler to evaluate the health of the golf industry in Coachella Valley.
“The golf industry is enormous in this valley,” Kessler said. “This is the greatest concentration of golf courses in the United States. The direct economic impact (of golf on local annual revenue) is over $1 billion. So for a population as small as this, that’s fairly substantial.”
A study using data collected in 2014 titled “The Economic Impact of the Coachella Valley Golf Industry,” completed by Tourism Economics, stated: “In 2014, the golf industry generated the following total economic impacts in the Coachella Valley region: a) Nearly $1.1 billion in total business sales; b) $413.3 million in labor income; c) More than 14,000 jobs. These regional economic impacts also generated significant fiscal (tax) impacts at the local, state and federal levels. In 2014, the Coachella Valley golf industry directly and indirectly generated approximately $83.3 million in local and state taxes and $90.5 million in federal taxes.”
Clearly, the game is integral to the area’s economy. Can the local population continue to count on it?
“I’ll say that we’re actually pleasantly surprised by the way our industry has withstood the recent challenges here in the valley—but also we’re watching it very carefully,” Kessler said. “Almost 27 percent of Southern California’s and about 14 percent of the whole state’s golf courses are right here in this desert. For example, the city of Los Angeles, with 4 million people, has 35 golf courses within its city limits, while you have 121 here. So the role that golf plays in the local economy here is phenomenal. I think it was Sonny Bono who said, ‘No golf. No Palm Springs.’ While that may not be quite true, certainly if you take out golf and agriculture, you don’t have much to drive revenue here.”
Kessler admitted the golf industry has seen some rough times in the last decade or so—rough times that he said need to be put in historical context.
“From 1946 to 2004, the game grew every year,” he said. “That spanned wars in Korea and Vietnam, urban riots, gas lines (due to shortages), recessions, double-dip recessions, etc. Some of those years were better than others, but even in the worst economic years, golf never suffered any declines. It continued to grow for 60 years. By 2004-2005, what I just described resulted in an industry ripe for an overdue correction—and that’s what hit the industry nationally, and here in California.”
Can the golf industry address the challenges it is facing?
“Over the last 10 years or so, the golf industry has learned that it can’t just sit and hope that (the players) will come,” Kessler said. “We have to become marketers, just like every other business in the United States. But I want to emphasize that when I read stories that talk about this game being passé, that it takes too long to play or is too difficult, and that people are no longer interested in it, I disagree. The facts that the base community of players has less money than they used to have, and the game has become more expensive than it used to be, are (the factors) driving the lack of participation. All the studies done about (consumer) interest in the game … show that the numbers are through the roof.”
Due to California’s record-breaking drought, golf courses have been subjected to unprecedented environmental and conservation pressures.
“One of the encouraging things is that as a result of recent conservation efforts, you’re seeing golf courses reduce substantially the amount of turf they irrigate, and maintenance expenses in general,” Kessler said. “By lowering those costs, we can reduce the cost of the game and put ourselves more in line with the market we’re trying to appeal to.”
Where should stewards of the golf industry be focusing their attention to encourage golf’s growth, longevity—and benefit to our valley?
“There’s no doubt that the lack of millennial interest in the game of golf is the greatest problem,” Kessler said. “In my opinion, I think that lack of interest results mostly from economic and financial factors, and not cultural or social factors. Honestly, I think it’s an insult to this particular generation to assume that somehow they are uniquely suffering from short attention spans and don’t like pursuits that are difficult. What they do have is extreme debt levels due to student loans. But if we don’t get them involved at a younger age, then they won’t be retiring to places like the Coachella Valley.”
In recognition of what some observers might call the anachronistic tendencies of golf and its culture, Kessler concluded: “There is something venerable about the historical traditions of the game of golf, but they need to be updated for each generation. Its values are timeless, but the forms of those values aren’t necessarily so. Now the private clubs are starting to incorporate families—and another encouraging sign about the demographics of golf is that Latinos, who are now a (plurality) of this state’s population and include many successful business people, are attracted to golf as a family activity. Golf was that way once—and it needs to regain that focus.”
As Election Day 2016 approaches, a heated debate among City Council candidates is disrupting the tranquility of La Quinta, the self-anointed “Gem of the Desert.”
One issue fueling the controversy is the proposed 1 percent sales tax increase known as Measure G, placed on this year’s ballot by unanimous vote of the City Council. Another issue: the proposed CV Link project.
The two mayoral candidates—incumbent Linda Evans and challenger Paula Maietta, a retail-marketing business specialist and 30-year La Quinta resident—have opposing views on just about all of the important issues.
Regarding Measure G, Evans told the Independent in a recent interview”: “I supported putting Measure G on the ballot, and I am in support of the need for that 1 percent increase. That’s largely due to the combination of how the expenses for things like police, fire, flood control, insurance and maintenance on capital improvements are rising versus the timing of when revenues will come in from development. … This additional sales tax is something that will be protected locally, and should yield about an additional $6 million per year, because that’s what our current 1 percent sales tax share is yielding right now.”
Maietta told the Independent she does not think the perceived budget challenges have been diagnosed correctly.
“First of all, we need a better picture of what really is happening (with our city revenues),” Maietta said. “These financial issues are not new issues.
“I just don’t think that this is a well-thought-out-measure. I think that the proper fiduciary role for the city is to make do with what they have. … They want this sales-tax increase to build up the reserve to $40 or $50 million, which was the amount before the (Redevelopment Agency) was dissolved. Well, we’re not a savings and loan. We’re a city.”
Not surprisingly, this divide carries into the group of five candidates vying for two open seats on the City Council. Candidates Kristy Franklin (the only incumbent City Council member running for re-election; pictured upper right), Kathleen Fitzpatrick (a member of the La Quinta Planning Commission, right), Steve Sanchez (a Marine Corps veteran and businessman) and Victoria Llort (a business woman and vice president of the local nonprofit American Outreach Foundation) all support Measure G.
“The city is just like any other business: money in, and money out,” Franklin said in a recent interview. “You can’t spend what you don’t have—or you shouldn’t, let’s put it that way. So Measure G is something that (the current City Council) wasn’t casual about at all. We did our homework, and then we put together an advisory committee by asking for volunteers from the community, and 14 people said yes.”
Sanchez told us he supports the measure because the state and county won’t be able to get their hands on that money: “That 1 percent, no one can take that. I’m going to vote for it because I want to maintain that quality of life that we’re used to.”
Sanchez (right, slightly below) did have one misgiving, though: “I do wish that there was a sunset date on it so that maybe eight to 10 years from now, the residents would vote again on it.”
Llort pointed out that only 1 percent of the current 8 percent sales tax stays in La Quinta. “This (1 percent increase) would give the city 2 percent. Now, it is unappropriated, so it is a general tax. When and if the voters approve it, I would like to see a citizen oversight committee really monitor the money that goes into the general fund and make sure that it’s spent appropriately and that the rising expenses for police and fire and infrastructure are addressed.”
Fitzpatrick offered a dire view of the consequences of a vote against Measure G. “I hope that it passes, and I’ll tell you from being out there walking in the precincts that I think it’s at about 50-50 right now,” she said. “If it doesn’t pass, we’re really going to have to look at full cost recovery on fees and making some changes in the programs and services that we offer. We have a lot of fees that we subsidize for some of our programs in the Wellness Center, for instance. … We’ll look at our sports programs as well.”
Only Joseph Johnson, a retired investigator for the city of Los Angeles, sides with Maietta in questioning whether there is a pressing need to increase the sales tax.
“I don’t believe that right now, this (Measure G) is the thing to do,” Johnson told us. “If we increase the sales tax on our local businesses, we’re going to have more people not buying here, and that’s going to hurt our businesses even more.”
Johnson (right, slightly below) took issue with the 14-person advisory committee that suggested the Measure G strategy: “If you read this 14-person advisory report, it says right there that they are not taking into consideration any increase in sales tax at all.
“That means the money we’re going to get from Costco—there’s a (revenue) share split that we’ve been giving them for years on sales tax that expires in April, and that’s going to be about half a million dollars in extra revenue for the city, and that was not considered in this report. Also, we have a deal with Hobby Lobby’s landlord … for a few years … but after that, it will bring another $200,000 to $300,000 a year in extra revenue, which is not considered in that report. We’re getting a TJ Maxx and Ulta, and that’s not considered in that report. Plus there’s normal inflation.”
Regarding the valley-wide debate on the CV Link project, most of the candidates are taking a “wait and see” stance in anticipation of the environmental impact report’s impending release, sometime before the end of the year. Here’s a quick rundown of each candidate’s perspective:
Evans: “When we created the Adams Street bridge overpass, we already engineered an underneath ramp that goes below the street so that you can continue on that levee without having to cross the road. We are in the planning stages to do a bridge at Dune Palms as well. So we’re a little bit ahead of the game, in my opinion. We’ll see if it’s completely cost-prohibitive to even consider. … But the concept of what it can represent for our valley, I definitely support.”
Maietta: “I’m not against the CV Link. Certainly, I’m in support of things that get people out of the house and doing healthy things—but this is a boondoggle. Nobody even has any idea of how much it’s going to cost yet. They don’t know who’s going to maintain it, and they don’t know what the maintenance costs are. Who’s going to police it? … It’s not done yet, but as it stands right now, I can’t support it.”
Franklin: “CV Link is not a priority for me, and that’s because we don’t know how much it’s going to cost to maintain it. We’re asking for a sales-tax increase, so to ask the citizens to pay for something from now into perpetuity when we haven’t a clue what the cost is going to be, I can’t buy that. My gut reaction to this is that it’s being pushed down our throats, and I don’t like that.”
Sanchez: “In theory, I think it’s a great project. But when it first came up, I was 100 percent against it for many reasons. The costs were uncertain. Without knowing things like what the ongoing maintenance is … I need to find out what all of that is before I can make a final decision on it. The information that is out right now has changed my mind from 100 percent against to being on the fence.”
Llort (right): “We don’t know what the CV Link is going to cost. That being said, I am in support of the 2-3 mile portion that would go through La Quinta. It is placed very conveniently along the wash right behind one of the business strips along 111, but also right behind the high school. The portion of CV Link that goes through La Quinta is to be built on land not owned by the city, but by the CVWD. … I reserve the right to analyze and study everything diligently to make sure that it’s still in the best interests of La Quinta.”
Fitzpatrick: “I’m conditionally supportive of the CV Link, but we need to see the EIR. That being said, I think that it’s a project that would generate tourism. We built several bike-path kind of facilities when I worked with … Los Angeles. Those kinds of projects always bring tourists and always bring users and always prove a tremendous benefit, especially in La Quinta, where our brand is health and wellness.”
Johnson: “In general, a bike path running all the way from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea is not a bad idea. But … it’s the most ugly path you’ll ever see. They show pictures of people walking their dogs along this thing, but do you think walking dogs on concrete when it’s 120 degrees out is practical? No, it’s not. … As for funding, they say that tourism is going to increase so much that one proposal is to take any increases in (each city’s) hotel tax and use that to fund this project. That’s problematic, because when the cities need money, that’s one of the few sources of revenue that they have.”
All five candidates for the three Palm Desert City Council seats up for election this year, not surprisingly, say they’re proud of their mid-valley city.
All agree that the city’s wide roads, pleasant parks, good schools and upscale neighborhoods are virtues that continue to make Palm Desert an attractive destination for tourists and new residents alike.
However, the city is facing fiscal and developmental challenges that could threaten the future growth and fiscal stability of Palm Desert.
The Independent spoke with each of the candidates and discussed their concerns, their priority issues if elected, and their views on Measure T. The only city measure on this November’s Palm Desert ballot, Measure T calls for a 2 percentage-point increase—from 9 to 11 percent—in the city’s transient occupancy tax (TOT), charged to every traveler who stays in a hotel within the city’s borders.
On this one issue, the candidates agree: They all say they’re voting for the increase.
Incumbent Van Tanner (right), a retired insurance-company executive and former member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, is wrapping up his first term on the City Council. He was the most outspoken proponent of Measure T.
“Wherever (tourists) go to stay, they’re going to pay a TOT. Well, we’re the lowest in the Coachella Valley, and (if Measure T passes), now we’re going to be right in the middle. So the 2 percent is going to generate $2 million in additional revenue, and it is something that we need to pass. It’s not a question of how we’re going to do it; we need to do it.”
Businesswoman and local pastor Kathleen Kelly explained why she supports Measure T.
“We have the absolute lowest TOT in Coachella Valley, and there’s nothing strategically beneficial to the city in holding that spot,” she said. “We’re not gaining an advantage by being last. We’re just forgoing the opportunity to appropriately look for income to cover the added expenses that the tourism brings with it.”
Susan Marie Weber (right), the other incumbent who is running for re-election as her first term draws to a close, said she’s a libertarian who normally does not like taxation. However, she supports Measure T.
“A hotel tax is a little bit different. It’s more like a user fee, which is a voluntary tax,” she said. “We use the (TOT) money to make sure that the roads are clean, that we have public safety available to keep you safe, and we have our other amenities.
“Two years ago we tried to pass a similar measure, but it was so specific that people living here thought they were going to be taxed,” Weber said. “But this time, it’s clear that the resulting revenue will go into our general fund to be used as we (the City Council) think it should be used. For instance, the police and fire services surprised us with increases, so we sure could use a little more money to offset those costs.”
Gina Nestande is the wife of former congressional candidate and former State Assemblyman Brian Nestande. She said she hopes to contribute her fundraising and leadership skills to the council’s work.
“This one time I am—but it’s only a Band-Aid that the city needs right now,” she said about Measure T. “We can’t rely on raising the TOT every couple of years to help our budget. We need to increase revenues, diversify our economy and keep the young people here—or if they do go off to college, (we need them) coming back here to work. But that will only happen if we have the infrastructure here for them. We can’t just rely on the golf and tourism industries. Tourism is great, and we can be a wonderful tourist destination—but again, we have to think bigger.”
Jerry Martin is a former golf professional, entrepreneur and insurance agent who is the driving force (pun intended) behind El Paseo Cruise Night and several other car-centric events.
“I am in favor of raising that TOT by 2 percent,” he said. “It doesn’t really affect the residents of Palm Desert, and that added revenue is really important. We need to come up and be more in line with the rest of the cities here in the desert. You know there are a lot of additional costs (regarding tourists) involved in operating the city, especially when it comes to fire, police and ambulance service, so those funds will be really important.”
The candidates also largely all agreed on the strong need for improved cooperation among the nine Coachella Valley city governments.
Kelly (right), who moved to the valley at the age of 7, made the case succinctly: “Regional cooperation is increasingly important to our quality of life in Palm Desert. As the Coachella Valley has built out, we have increasingly become one large community. So it’s not possible to go it alone, even if someone philosophically thought that was desirable. Reaching across party lines, generational divides or other potential boundaries to inspire and facilitate collaboration—that’s my skill set.”
All the candidates voiced cautious optimism that the CV Link project—a proposed valley-long pedestrian/bike path—could be completed if no undue burdens were placed on Palm Desert’s citizens, and if environmental-impact studies raised no major concerns.
Some of the candidates identified one key issue on which they’ll work first.
“There’s the redevelopment of Highway 111, which is already in progress,” Martin said. “Many buildings along the highway will be given a facelift, and there are plans to put the stores, markets and services on the first level, with living spaces on the top levels. Younger people are gravitating toward a lifestyle where they can leave their homes and apartments and walk to shops and restaurants.”
Weber sounded the alarm regarding the potential financial risk posed by the generous pension and retirement packages being granted to city employees. “We need to complete a pension review,” she said. “We started a couple of years ago to try to change our method so that when new people were hired, they’d come in under a different pension structure, but we’re still doing like 30-some percent, you know? So if you’re earning $100,000 a year, we’re putting $30,000 aside in pension for you. Way to go, huh? That’s unsustainable, and we’re going to be in a death spiral if we don’t work on that.”
Nestande (right) highlighted education and Salton Sea protection. “I’d like to focus on fast-tracking the Cal State University,” she said. “It is our only four-year university (located in the valley), and it has limited degree programs. I’ve met with the chancellor, and they really have a wonderful agenda to try to increase the number of degree programs offered here.”
She suggested this new approach for saving the Salton Sea: “We need to think regionally and expand beyond Palm Desert. What’s been proposed is that the big stakeholders create an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District. This plan has to be approved by a vote of 55 percent of the citizens, but if it were to pass, it could raise as much as a couple of billion dollars.”
Tanner said he would focus his work on developing and implementing a new general plan for Palm Desert.
“It’s a systematic way to take our city into new areas over the next 20 years,” he said. “It deals with land use as well as economic fiscal responsibility, because we want to make sure that our tourism stays strong, and our retail sales stay strong. That’s what’s going to create the revenue for our general fund for everything that needs to be done in the city.”
Rep. Raul Ruiz upset Mary Bono Mack four years ago to become the California District 36 congressman.
This year, state Sen. Jeff Stone hopes to pull off an upset of his own.
The Democratic Party has high hopes this year. Party leaders think it’s possible to retain the presidency, regain control of the Senate, and increase the number of Democrats in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
Given this electoral outlook, incumbent Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz is in what seems like a fairly favorable position. He garnered 58.5 percent of June’s primary vote and had raised close to $2.5 million through June.
District 36 is a former Republican stronghold that includes all of the Coachella Valley, yet Ruiz’s challenger, State Sen. Jeff Stone, attracted only 31.6 percent of primary voters in June. (Another Republican received 9.9 percent of the vote.) He had raised only about a tenth of Ruiz’s haul through June—around $250,000.
What a difference four years makes.
Stone is measured when asked about his chances for an upset this year. “I’m not presumptuous to tell you that I will be elected—but I hope to be elected,” he said during a recent interview with the Independent.
When asked about the major differences between him and Ruiz, Stone mentioned last year’s nuclear deal with Iran. “It’s my belief that the (Iran nuclear) deal, that Congressman Ruiz supported, has aided and abetted a rogue country like Iran, the largest sponsor of terrorism on the globe, to continue their sponsorship of terrorism. But more importantly, it allows them a pathway to get to a nuclear bomb.”
Of course, Ruiz views his vote differently. “I voted for the Iran nuclear agreement,” he told the Independent, “because its purpose is for Iran to never, ever, ever—not now, not in 10, not in 15, not in 20, not in 50 years, not ever, ever—get a nuclear bomb. And already, we are seeing results.”
Stone also takes issue with the way that he said Ruiz arrived at his stance on the controversial deal.
“I was in the room (in Washington, D.C.) with members of the Coachella Valley contingent when Raul Ruiz made it very clear that he was not going to support any deal with Iran that allowed them to continue with their nuclear program. He flip-flopped for reasons I’ll never understand,” Stone said. “(Ruiz) said in a subsequent Desert Sun editorial that (paraphrasing), ‘It is with great humility that I am supporting this deal with Iran.’ Well, that humility could translate into future generations of Americans being the beneficiaries of a nuclear bomb on our soil.”
Ruiz said keeping his constituents safe is a major priority.
“We’ve got to keep the pressure on (Iran),” Ruiz said. “We will continue to conduct aggressive inspections which will give us intelligence that gives us the upper hand, now and in the future, to always maintain strict vigilance and ensure that they never get a nuclear bomb.”
Each candidate shared their views on other issues of concern. Ruiz mentioned the economy.
“We have to make sure that life is more affordable,” Ruiz said. “A lot of the American people and a lot of my constituents are struggling, working hard and still finding it hard to make ends meet. We need to make sure we expand the middle class by empowering our consumers and giving them a raise in the minimum wage.
“Locally, I’ve worked very closely and aggressively in promoting and helping our small businesses. I’ve successfully brought the first and only Small Business Administration office in the entire Inland Empire right here to the Coachella Valley so that our businesses have the tools, the equipment, the information and the capital they need to expand and create more jobs.”
Stone sees border security as a major challenge.
“I believe we need to secure our border—and I’m not for doing it the way that Donald Trump has been stereotyped,” Stone said. “We need to secure our borders in the name of national security. I am so worried that we are going to have a person from the Mideast who is going to transport radioactive material that is smuggled into Mexico and then smuggled into the United States and used as a dirty bomb.
“In addition, the scourge of narcotics that is claiming the lives of so many youngsters in our country … all of it is coming from Mexico because of our porous borders,” Stone said. “I’m not an advocate of building a big wall. I believe that with technology and allowing our Border Patrol agents to do their jobs, we can accomplish these tasks.”
Ruiz weighed in on the topic as well.
“I’ve got to make sure that we secure America and that we keep my constituents safe,” he said. “We need to make sure that our military and law enforcement have the tools that they need. That’s why I have voted repeatedly and consistently to give them those tools.”
Ruiz touted his achievements in supporting U.S. veterans.
“I’m very proud that we started the first-ever Veterans University that brought in over 500 veterans, their family members and community members who care about veterans in order to give them the tools necessary to improve their access to the benefits that they’ve earned,” Ruiz explained. “We help them navigate the health-care system so that they can get the mental-health services they need to prevent suicides and reduce the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder. In terms of legislation, last cycle, one of my bills … made it into the CHOICE Act that became law.
“Locally, I’ve been working hard to expand the VA Palm Desert clinic to bring in more mental-health specialists. We just successfully brought in a mobile veterans’ center that will be making stops in Hemet, Palm Springs and Indio. But you know, I miss seeing patients in the emergency room, so I’m doctoring by seeing my constituents on the case work when they come into my office. We’ve been very successful in bringing in over $2 million in benefits owed to our veterans and cutting through the red tape to make sure they get the health care that they need, when they need it.”
Stone shared his thoughts on how to improve veterans’ services.
“To me, it’s very tragic when you have 22 veterans (nationwide) who are committing suicide every single day,” Stone said. “Now I appreciate that he (Ruiz) has got this van that’s going to provide for some mobile services. … I commend him. But my plan is completely different. It will allow people not to wait for a van in a district as large as our 36th Congressional District. If I am elected, one of my first bills is going to be to completely privatize the VA—to sell off the Veterans Administration hospitals to private-sector hospitals and to enroll every veteran into the Medicare program or a Medicare-like program that allows them the freedom of choice to get the physician they want and go to the hospital that they choose. This will eliminate the backlog of people who are falling prey to a monstrous bureaucracy within the Veterans Administration.”
We asked the candidates about the failure of Congress to approve any funding thus far to combat the increasing presence of the Zika virus.
“I think that it’s an example of the partisan gridlock that puts partisanship against the best interests of the citizens of the United States of America,” Stone said. “I strongly support funding for the development of a vaccine quickly, because we’re seeing the horrific birth defects caused as a result of the virus. I think that something needs to be done in the next 30 days. They need to sit down like adults and come up with the appropriate funding, and let’s get that Zika vaccine out there before we see an epidemic of the Zika virus … infecting a lot of pregnant women who will have severely disabled children on their hands.”
Ruiz said he’s also concerned about the virus and its possible effects on families.
“I’m concerned not only about potential stressful and emotional experiences tied to giving birth to infants with microcephaly, because that means they’ll have to cope with the burdens and emotional stress of caring for a developmentally challenged loved one for the rest of their lives, but also about the struggle with a $10 million or more financial burden for the lifetime of that loved one,” he said. “That is why I’m advocating for the full funding that the scientists and public-health experts and health-care providers have said they need.
“I am thoroughly disappointed that the House Republicans introduced a bill that only had a third of the funding necessary. Still, there are things that I can do locally. I’m holding town halls, and educating my constituents through social media and PSAs so that they know how to keep themselves safe from the Zika virus. I’ve visited the Coachella Valley (Mosquito and Vector Control District) and discussed ways that we can collaborate so that they have the resources and information that they need to move forward. I’ll encourage (Speaker Paul Ryan) not to play politics and put riders into a bill. … There is no ‘wait and see’ here, because once a child has microcephaly, they will always have microcephaly in their lifetime.”
Stone said he supports a bipartisan approach to tackling problems.
“You know, it shouldn’t depend on whether you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after your name. If you come up with a good solution to a problem, it should be embraced in the best interests of the state of California, or if you go to Congress, in the best interest of the 339 million people living in this country,” he said. “It shouldn’t be based on just partisanship. Those are areas that I think the public is frustrated with, and I think that’s why you’re seeing the popularity of Donald Trump. I think that’s why you saw the popularity of Bernie Sanders, because people are tired of politically correct speech and people just toeing party lines and not getting things done. This is going to be a very unique election.”
Ruiz expressed optimism about his chances in November.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to represent my constituents in my home area for another two years,” he said.
Rep. Raul Ruiz and state Sen. Jeff Stone will take part in a debate at 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 16. The debate will air live on News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2, and will be streamed live at KESQ.com and Desertsun.com.