County OKs health plan: Tobacco funds to aid community

by Timothy Bowman

After six months of floating like smoke in a closed room, El Dorado County’s share of the money from the Master Tobacco Settlement will go to health care.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to enact the El Dorado County Health Alliance health care plan, which aims to take medical initiatives using the $47 million of tobacco money given to El Dorado County.

“This action has the potential to affect the health of the whole community,” said P.J. LoDuca, head of the Health Alliance.

The county board’s action was a relief for many in the El Dorado medical community. When the tobacco settlement money first came to the county, it did not come with any stipulations on how it was to be used. The county board voted to use the funds to construct a new justice center.

“My position was, ‘Yes, there is no legal reason why you can’t use that money for (a new justice court),’ ” said Bill Gordon, chief executive officer of Barton Memorial Hospital and Alliance member. “The original intent was that the money should go for (anti-tobacco) education and that it should go to help people who have been affected by smoking.”

In July, shortly after the board moved to allocate the tobacco money to build the new justice court, those in the El Dorado medical community who shared Gordon’s concerns formed the Alliance. The Alliance formed a plan for how the money should be used, but the board decided to stay the issue for 30-day consideration. As a result, the board took no action on the Alliance plan until after the Aug. 11 deadline to add items to the ballot for the November 2000 elections. With the next election in 2002, the Alliance sought to have the county board adopt its plan by the board’s authority. The Alliance, with the help of a county board with three new members, accomplished its goal Tuesday.

“I feel it goes to show when a group of people get together they can move mountains,” Gordon said. “I think now the real question is how much money is available and how it will be used.”

Until Tuesday, the goal of the Alliance had been securing the money for health care purposes, but some preliminary ideas for its usage have been discussed.

“The Health Alliance did sit down and detail out how we would choose to spend (the tobacco money,)” LoDuca said. “Access to care was the top priority. Access to basic primary care is one of the biggest issues on the West Slope for uninsured and underserved. There isn’t a provider in the community that is available to them.”

El Dorado County has received more than $400,000 of the tobacco money so far, and expects $1.1 million by the end of the fiscal year. The Alliance proposal does not allocate all of the money to health care services.

“The Health Alliance does not want to spend all the money on health care,” LoDuca said. “We thought this was an opportunity to have a dialogue and discuss what this money could be used for. What we wanted was a process prioritizing what the health needs were and then going from there.”

In other business:

– The board moved Tuesday for a week postponement of consideration of bidding for an ambulance provider on Lake Tahoe’s south shore.

– The El Dorado County Board adopted a proposal to provide two vans for the Lake Tahoe Senior Center.

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