A better website, a distinguishing name change and modifications to the way the organization keeps track of taxpayer money have made the El Camino Healthcare District more transparent and accountable to the public, according to an official with the Local Agency Formation Commission of Santa Clara County.
After being publicly criticized by the LAFCO board and the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury for a lack of openness and questionable business practices, ECH and the district are turning their act around, said Margaret Abe-Koga, a member of the LAFCO board and the Mountain View City Council.
"From what we've seen, it seems they have actually made quite a few changes and a lot of progress has been made," Abe-Koga said, referring to a report, which officials from the local healthcare organization delivered before the LAFCO board on Aug. 7.
In the report, ECH and ECHD leaders highlighted a number of changes made over the past year aimed at improving transparency.
Officials noted that a much sharper distinction has now been drawn between the hospital and the taxpayer-funded hospital district. Before, the hospital was named El Camino Hospital and the district was named the El Camino Hospital District, and both entities shared a single website. Now, the district has changed its name to the El Camino Healthcare District and it no longer shares a website with the hospital.
According to Abe-Koga, money collected by the healthcare district used to essentially be funneled directly into the hospital corporation. Once there, officials promised that they only used they taxpayer-generated funds for capital improvements and community benefits projects as the law requires. However, because there was no sharp dividing line, many questioned whether that money might be used for other purposes.
Now, the district keeps a very separate set of books, and instead of sending tax dollars directly to the hospital's capital improvement and community benefit funds, the hospital corporation now has to formally request funds from the district, according to Abe-Koga.
"We were very pleased that the district took LAFCO's recommendations seriously," Abe-Koga said. "Overall things are looking much better than they did a year ago."
In addition to Abe-Koga's endorsement, the district also received a certificate acknowledging their efforts to increase transparency from the Special District Leadership Foundation.
The SDLF, an organization composed of leaders from special districts from all over California, gave the district its District Transparency Certificate of Excellence -- recognizing the district for taking a number of steps to improve its openness.
Those steps included putting all of its board members through an ethics training course, adopting official policies for dealing with public records act requests, conducting annual audits and making sure policies are in place to prevent conflicts of interest.
"This award is a true testament to the hard work and collaboration between the district and our community over the past several years," ECHD Chair Patricia Einarson said in a press release. "As a publicly accountable organization, we are committed to being open and transparent about activities and decisions impacting district residents."