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Health District candidates respond

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

The Fallbrook Regional Health District Board of Directors has three seats up for election on Nov. 8 that will be decided by voters living in their geographic zones. Each area has an incumbent (one appointed) facing a single challenger.

In Zone 1, incumbent Jennifer Jeffries is challenged by Sydney Lay. In Zone 3, appointed incumbent William Leach faces Margie Mosavi. In Zone 5, director Howard Salmon is opposed by Terry Brown.

Each of the six candidates responded to a questionnaire from the Village News with their thoughts about district issues. Their answers will be presented zone-by-zone.

In Zone 1, both Jeffries and Lay are long-time residents.

Jeffries said she has lived in Fallbrook since 1988 and served as superintendent of the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District for 10 years. “Although retired from my educational career, I view my work in education as clearly connected with the work of the Health District’s mission which is assisting residents to lead healthy lives and supporting a greater life span and independence,” she said.

Lay said she grew up in Fallbrook. “I’ve lived here for two decades and am now the director of operations for an organization that’s heavily involved in providing care to the underserved patients of San Diego and Riverside counties” she said. “My family manages multiple practices in locations throughout the San Diego and Riverside counties.”

Asked why she was running again, Jeffries responded, “After four years on the board, I am particularly excited about the complete redesign of the Health and Wellness facility on East Mission. Our grants, programs and services are an integral part of our community. Expanding these efforts is my ‘why’ for running for a second term.”

Lay said she decided to run “because it is right up my alley.” Lay explained, “My whole life I’ve been immersed in healthcare, wellness, fitness, and nutrition. I see the health board as an opportunity for me to further serve my community.”

The candidates each said they had unique qualities to offer the board:

“Due to my prior experience as superintendent, during which I managed multi-million-dollar budgets, as well as construction and renovation projects, I bring firsthand experience to budgeting and strategic planning processes,” Jeffries said.

“I provide a fresh and realistic point of view from the private sector that would serve the board well,” Lay said. “I will have an open line of communication and I want to hear the community’s thoughts, ideas, and issues.”

Asked about their health board passion and what they would like to accomplish, they had similar responses:

“I am treasurer of the board and chair of the Long-Range Planning Committee. Both committees are deeply involved in the expansion of programs, the development of the Community Health and Wellness Center and the awarding of community grants,” Jeffries said.

“My career in the private sector is where I discovered my passion for budgeting and planning in the healthcare industry,” Lay said. “In addition to these two areas, I will do everything I can to make Fallbrook Health Board stronger and more beneficial for the citizens of Fallbrook.”

Their thoughts about mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and masks:

“I am convinced the initial response was correct in order to learn more about the virus, while protecting the public,” Jeffries said. “As time passed, the ability to test weekly rather than vaccinate for many settings was an appropriate modification as the most vulnerable still needed protection and people had a choice.”

“I believe in medical freedom,” Lay said. “There are many studies exploring the effectiveness of masks and vaccines, and I respect the individual’s right to choose what they do with that information.”

Jeffries said she supported Covid vaccines for children with parent permission for under 18 years. Lay said parents have the right to decide what’s best for their children.

The two had different views on a doctor’s right to free speech when the opinions are different than government agencies:

“Yes, and I expect them to provide empirical data to support their opinions,” Jeffries said. “Without an evidence-based foundation for their opinions, there is no credibility.”

“This is simple,” Lay said. “It’s not the government’s place to suppress speech, and the relationship between a healthcare provider and their patient should be private.”

Both were in favor of the district establishing a nonprofit foundation, as well as plans for the Health and Wellness Center. Lay added, “the community deserves a voice on this issue because it’s our tax dollars funding this project.”

In Zone 3, Leach was appointed by the board in May to fill a vacancy. He also served on the board from 2016 to 2018.

“I decided to run to make a difference in my community,” he said.

Mosavi is president of the Fallbrook branch of American Association of University Women.

“Before moving to Fallbrook eight years ago, I taught GED classes in a women’s state prison,” Mossavi said. “I have also taught high school English and French as well as English for speakers of other languages.”

Mosavi’s reason for running: “Throughout my life I have lived in many places but none of them have felt like home. Fallbrook feels like home to me. I want to serve my community.”

Asked about their unique qualities for the board:

“I have experience,” Leach said. “I am also a father of two girls who live and go to school in our community. I am also under 40 and believe I represent young families in our community.”

“My experience with people from different cultures and walks of life,” Mosavi replied.

Asked about their health board passion and what they would you like to accomplish, they responded:

“My passion is helping Fallbrook by funding our wonderful and highly accomplished nonprofits. In my time on the board, we have given over $4 million to nonprofits such as the Fallbrook Food Pantry, Boys and Girls Club, REINS, and funding for senior care,” Leach said.

“I’m most interested in the programs aspect, but my main goal is to assure that taxpayer funds are spent wisely,” Mosavi said.

The candidates had slightly different views about mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and masks:

“I believe they are an attack on our personal freedom,” Leach said. “The Covid vaccine is not effective at preventing disease. Masks are also ineffective.”

“I’m vaccinated and have received my boosters,” Mosavi said. “I wore a mask during the pandemic in order to protect those around me and believe public servants should have worn them for the same reason. That being said, receiving the vaccine and/or wearing a mask has to be a choice. I have lived in a country where people don’t have the freedoms guaranteed to Americans by the First Amendment, so I understand the value of these freedoms.”

Asked about Covid vaccines for children, Leach said, “Absolutely not. Kids are least vulnerable to severe symptoms and it’s not worth the risk.” Mosavi said, “It’s the parents’ choice.”

Both supported free speech for everyone, including doctors with different views on Covid.

“The CDC and WHO have been wrong many times,” Leach said. “I believe in limited government. The government has no business getting between me and my doctor.”

Leach said he was in favor of the district establishing a foundation if it can bring outside grant funds that can benefit Fallbrook residents without using tax dollars. Mosavi did not respond to the question.

Asked if the Wellness Center is a good plan for long-range services in Fallbrook, Leach said, “The district should use all resources available to educate the community on what we do.”

Mosavi replied, “Since Fallbrook cannot support a hospital, the Wellness Center can fulfill some of the wellness activities that would be offered at a hospital.”

In District 5, both Salmon and Brown have extensive experience.

Salmon was administrator at hospitals in South Dakota and Michigan. He was also CEO of a hospital, Spokane, and vice president of Hospital Corporation of America, and partner of Phase II Consulting, a strategy and healthcare economics company.

In 2014 and 2018, Salmon was elected to the Fallbrook Regional Health District board and has been chairman for the last three years. He has a master’s degree in healthcare administration from University of Minnesota and was a board member of the Association of California Healthcare Districts and its chairman for three years.

Brown is a state licensed healthcare facility and residential care facility administrator and a certified Alzheimer’s trainer for caregivers. He said he received his first healthcare administrator license at the age of 23.

After Oceanside High school, Brown went to MiraCosta College and then to San Diego State as a business major, then to UCLA for Extended Care Facility certification. He received his Alzheimer’s training certification through the national Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago.

“My entire career has been serving the healthcare needs for the elderly and infirm,” he said. In 1994, he opened the first skilled nursing facility with a designated Alzheimer’s memory care program. As a corporate regional healthcare director, he managed healthcare centers throughout California from as small as 75 beds to as large as 300.

Brown is a past president for the San Diego Healthcare Facilities Association and member of the board of directors for the California Association of Health Facilities.

Brown managed his most recent community for 12 years with an annual operating budget of $12 million, 150 staff and 230 residents. “We managed through Covid-19 without losing a single soul,” he said. “I retired from this community in July, but I did not retire from my profession.”

The candidates shared their reason for running for the position:

“In 2014, I ran to offer my expertise because the hospital was failing,” Salmon said. “By the time I was elected, the hospital had closed. In 2018, I ran to share my expertise in healthcare strategic planning to help determine the vision and goals of the district by listening to community leaders and residents. In 2022, I am running to complete the Wellness Center advocated by those residents and leaders.”

“I believe that the health district should be doing a more effective job of allocating its assets and resources to the region,” Brown said. “It should not be in the real estate business; it should not have $8 million in cash in various banks; and it should not be spending 27% of its operating budget on administration expenses.”

Regarding their unique qualifications, Salmon said he has “An uncompromising belief that all are entitled to the respectful delivery of health education and services.” Brown said, “I will bring my passion for healthcare service, my experience in successful healthcare facility operations and my commitment to our community.”

Regarding their passion for the position and what they would like to accomplish:

“My passion is to provide access for all district residents to health support services and education,” Salmon said. “The last part of my healthcare management career was to help healthcare organizations to plan to provide quality, efficient services meeting the needs of their constituents.”

“I am excited about creating a service and budget plan that integrates the district’s resources and assets with the healthcare needs of our community,” Brown said. “I am even more excited about implementing those plans resulting in measurable health benefits to the folks of our community.

Their views about Covid vaccines and masks:

“The goal of public health is to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole,” Salmon said. “Vaccines and masks are tools to meet that goal. Government must balance individual freedom with threats to the health of its constituents.”

“Vaccination and mask wearing should be a choice,” Brown said. “If you are that concerned about getting Covid-19, then get the vaccination and wear the darn mask. Wear the mask at the market, in the bank, at church and have your kid wear it going to school. If you are not, then do not. Vaccination and mask-wearing should not be mandated.”

Both candidates supported making the vaccine a choice of the parents.

Both also said a physician should not forfeit his or her right to free speech simply because of their profession.

“Frankly, a physician has a duty to express a professional opinion if he or she believes that a current medical practice or policy is flawed,” Brown added. “Unfortunately, Assembly Bill 2098 denying a physician’s right to express a professional opinion was legalized on Sept. 30 via Governor Newsome’s signature.

“The provisions of AB 2098 suggests that California’s citizens are incapable of making their own determinations regarding their health and welfare. I believe that the citizens of Fallbrook are more than capable of separating the horse from the horse s--t.”

The candidates have different views on the establishment of a foundation.

“To meet the service and education needs of the district’s residents, the board envisions additional revenues beyond its share of property taxes,” Salmon said. “The Fallbrook health foundation because of its 501C3 designation will allow the district to seek grants and contributions for new health services.”

“The foundation is an unnecessary distraction that diverts assets and resources from the mission, purpose and vision of the health district,” Brown countered.

Salmon and Brown also differed on whether the Wellness Center was a good plan for long-range services in Fallbrook.

“District management, health care consultants, and board members have met with community residents and organizations for their opinions about long-range health services and programs to address diabetes, behavioral health, cancer, heart disease and stroke,” Salmon said. “The services that are currently offered and those being planned are the result of data analysis and community input.”

“Conceptually, the Wellness Center managed by the district makes sense,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, the current physical plant was a very poor choice, and it is not easily accessible to the target community. As a better alternative, the district should consider a long-term building lease with a more appropriate physical plant and accessible location with the cost of building ownership then used for additional services. The district should not be in the real estate ownership business.”

“Truly, the best alternative is for the district to contract out to community professionals and businesses to provide these services, Brown said.

Note: Due to space restrictions, the answers from the submitted questionnaire were edited.


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