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Hospital District Rises Above Its Troubled Past

March 22, 1987|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

When it stopped operating South Bay Hospital nearly three years ago, the South Bay Hospital District planned to become a foundation providing money for health programs in three beach cities. That year, it approved a long-term, $1.5-million grant to four South Bay school districts for nurses and community health fairs, among other things.

But it was more than a year later, in the fall of 1985, before the board decided on a number of other grant requests as it overcame political infighting, fired its first executive director and learned its new duties.

Last year saw a steady increase in activity, and the district so far has made a total of $2.2 million in grants for 18 programs, including crisis aid for rape victims and battered women, child care, a halfway house for recovering alcoholics and promotion of auto safety seats for children. The board has approved more than $200,000 in grants since February, and some leaders believe the turbulence is behind them.

"We are making good progress," said Jean G. McMillan, who was reelected to the five-member board last November after criticizing it for being too passive.

This month, the district board, elected in Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, approved a $100,000 grant to the Hawthorne-based Richstone Family Center to add staff and expand child-abuse prevention and treatment.

In February, the board gave $100,000 to the Wellness Community-South Bay to start a self-help program providing psychological and emotional support for cancer patients and their families. The program, which will help at least 150 patients a year, is patterned after one in Santa Monica.

Earlier, the board awarded $42,000 to South Bay Coalition Alive, which is located in Redondo Beach and promotes nonviolent ways to reduce conflict. Among other things, the group will make presentations to junior high school students and conduct forums for community groups.

The district's money comes from the $3 million a year it gets for leasing South Bay Hospital to American Medical International Inc.

Philip Valera, who became executive director of the district last April 1, is given much credit for helping to stabilize the board and increase efficiency of the district. Aside from personal and political clashes between board members, the lack of an executive director for eight months seriously hampered the board, members say.

"We were just keeping our heads above water," McMillan said.

Virginia D. Fischer, chairman of the board's grants committee, said Valera has been able "to bring consensus" to the board.

Processing Speeded Up

"With Valera having a good handle on things, we are able to process grant applications much more rapidly than we were in the past." She said applications now take about two months.

Fischer said the board also has a "clear knowledge" of its direction and is improving the way it evaluates programs to make sure grants are doing what they are supposed to do.

According to grants criteria approved by the board, special consideration is given to efforts to make health care more accessible and affordable. There also is a commitment to serve the senior population and young people, especially victims of neglect or abuse.

Fischer said the board is interested in what agencies have done on their own to establish or sustain their projects. With larger grants, the district asks that some of the money be used to generate financial support after the grants, which generally are made for a year, run out.

'Recognition Grants'

The agency has also begun giving "recognition grants"--such as the one to Richstone--"acknowledging that an agency has done something worthwhile," Fischer said.

"Richstone has a proven record of assisting families and children that have suffered abuse and, in a good number of instances, they already are serving families from the three beach cities," Fischer said.

Dorothy Courtney, Richstone's executive director, said the agency--which sees 200 children and 200 adults a year--will use the money to hire two new counselors who will work with families with preschool children, offer parenting classes, and assist preschools in developing child-abuse prevention programs.

"We are thrilled about the grant," Courtney said, "because we see a need and we are currently turning families away."

McMillan said the grant to the Wellness Community's cancer patient "brings in a program that did not exist in this community before."

(McMillan is on the Wellness Community's board and did not vote on the grant when it was approved by the hospital board.)

District leaders said they expect to become more active in initiating programs when they get the results of an assessment of health needs that is nearing completion.

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