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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional

Private Hospital Mounts Drive to Get Tobacco Funds

May 09, 2000

VENTURA — Community Memorial Hospital has collected 38,519 signatures, nearly twice the number needed, for a proposed November initiative that would transfer control of $260 million in tobacco settlement dollars from the county government to the administrators of private hospitals.

The private, nonprofit Ventura hospital submitted the signatures Monday, almost a month ahead of schedule, indicating popular support for the measure in November, hospital officials said.

If approved by Ventura County voters, the initiative would divert all of the money the county is scheduled to receive from a national lawsuit against tobacco companies to local private hospitals, including Community Memorial. That hospital's administrators have said they would use the money to pay for indigent care and other health care programs.

The county Board of Supervisors would have no control over the funds, and the money could not be used for health care provided by the county's public hospital. Community Memorial launched the initiative after supervisors approved using about $10 million of the tobacco money to pay off a federal health care penalty and beef up depleted general fund reserves.

"We feel tremendously gratified that the initiative has been embraced so broadly throughout the county," said Mark Barnhill, a Community Memorial spokesman. "It indicates there is strong support among voters, as well as a keen understanding of the need to spend the tobacco funds on health care and not to pay fines or reduce debt or other non-health care purposes."

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