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Local News March 12th, 2009

Palomar Pomerado Health District Bond Rating Downgraded

Moody’s, a widely respected Wall Street firm has downgraded the bond rating for Palomar Pomerado Health, a move that will increase interest rates on new debt for the North County public hospital district. Moody's cited a nearly $25 million gap between budgeted and actual income last year, as well as uncertainty over the ultimate cost of the district's ambitious construction program.

“The outlook remains negative, reflecting ongoing challenges facing the organization,” the credit-rating agency wrote in an analysis issued last week.

The health system's executives said they have fixed some of the problems and are addressing other concerns. Moody's lowered the district's rating by one notch – from A3 to Baa1. The new rating still classifies Palomar Pomerado as investment-worthy. It applies to long-term bonds sold by the district and backed by revenue from taxes and income at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido and Pomerado Hospital in Poway.

Moody's review primarily covered fiscal 2008, which ended June 30. The district's managers had projected a $24 million income for the year. Instead, they ended up with a $600,000 deficit. They blamed a series of costly events, including an increase in low-paying Medi-Cal patients, higher-than-expected use of contract workers, wildfires that closed Pomerado for several days, and large bills from several patients who had to receive care from other health providers.

Bob Hemker, the district's chief financial officer, called it “a perfect storm.” “The organization recognized that the operating performance of 2008 was not a sustainable performance,” he said yesterday.

Hemker and other district managers responded by making a number of changes designed to cut costs. They laid off 86 workers last summer, reduced dependence on temporary nurses, and raised insurance coverage for district patients who receive care from other health systems. For the first seven months of the current fiscal year, Palomar Pomerado has made $14.28 million, just shy of the $14.32 million that was budgeted, Hemker said.

“That validated that 2008 was not the start of a trend line for this organization,” he said.

The district's officials also have tried to control rising expenses associated with a nearly $1 billion expansion plan by scaling back some of the projects. Executives are looking for ways to reduce the cost of building a 288-bed hospital in Escondido, which was projected in 2007 to cost $872 million but has risen to $957 million. The hospital is under construction and scheduled to open in 2012. Moody's analysis gave the district credit for those efforts, but noted that 2008 was the third consecutive year in which the health system failed to reach its earnings goals.

In 2006, Palomar Pomerado generated $16 million in income, compared with its budgeted amount of $18 million. The gap widened slightly in 2007, when actual income totaled $17.7 million, compared with a budgeted amount of $21 million.

“The hospital hasn't been able to project the financial impact of the new economy accurately, which is not unusual,” said Nathan Kaufman, a health industry consultant in San Diego.

“Moody's is concerned about that, because if they are not able to project performance on a year-to-year basis, what's going to happen several years out when this new (hospital) is built?” Kaufman said.

Cami Mattson To Receive Jack Raymond Community Leadership Award from Escondido Chamber At Its Annual Dinner

For her vital role in the recent and overwhelming success of the Amgen bike race, ending in Escondido on February 22 with over 100,000 viewers drawn to the downtown Escondido finish line, The Escondido Chamber of Commerce will present Cami Mattson with the Jack Raymond Community Leadership Award at its 99th Annual Installation and Awards Banquet in June. Ms. Mattson is executive director of the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The semi-formal event will be held on Friday evening June 12th at Harrah's Rincon Casino, Valley Center. Long time community leader and philanthropist Jack Raymond will present the award.

"The Amgen bike race was a historic event for Escondido and there is no doubt in anyone's mind that Cami made it happen," said Escondido Chamber chair Tom Hogarty, principal of Hogarty Communications, a local public relations firm "In the midst of challenging economic times, she brought a much-needed morale boost to our entire community."

"The Escondido community was all abuzz with activity during the entire weekend," said Harvey Mitchell, Chamber president and CEO. "It was an event unparalleled in this city, something which brought the whole community together. We are hopeful of having the event back again next year."

Escondido Charitable Foundation Focuses on Science and Math as Funding Priorities

Escondido Organizations and Causes with a focus on supporting education in math and science could well wind up being the recipients of funding from the Escondido Charitable Foundation. In its third year of grant making The Escondido Charitable Foundation will focus on projects that will contribute to the improvement of science and mathematics education in Escondido.

The foundation feels comprehensive programs are needed to assist students in attaining knowledge and critical thinking skills grounded in science and mathematics, preparing them with the ability to compete for the educational and employment opportunities of their choosing.

The foundation will fund science and mathematics programs for school-aged (K-12) children and youth that are managed by educational, non-profit, or government organizations. Consideration will be given to projects that provide education opportunities supporting and promoting the development of science and math talent.

The guidelines contain more specific information about applicant eligibility and the selection process that the Escondido Charitable Foundation will follow over the next couple of months. The guidelines can be found at www.EndowEscondido.org.

Once applications are received, the members of the Escondido Charitable Foundation will vote to decide where the grant making dollars go. The deadline for grant applications is April 22, 2009.

Rita Bowcock, chair of the Escondido Charitable Foundation grants committee states "Our research and interviews in the community confirmed our belief that there is a need to support the education process in science and math in order to prepare our youth to compete in the job market in the future. It is for this reason that the members chose to focus on funding for programs that encourage education in math and science. We are looking to fund programs that will make a long-lasting impact on our youth and our community.'"

The Escondido Charitable Foundation currently has 123 members. These members represent a variety of charitable leaders from across the spectrum of local business, philanthropy and public service. Through the Foundation's fund building efforts, half of their donations go immediately into grant making. The other half of the donations is placed in a permanent endowment to support Escondido in perpetuity

Vallecitos Water District declares Drought Level Stage 1 alert

In response to Governor Schwarzenegger’s statewide drought declaration, the Vallecitos Water District general manager issued a Drought Level Stage 1 alert for all customers within its 45-square-mile boundaries of San Marcos, Lake San Marcos, and parts of Carlsbad and Escondido, including other nearby unincorporated areas of the county.

Three historically dry winter seasons and recent court rulings have also severely slashed the water available for import into the region by Vallecitos wholesaler, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

With the likelihood of the situation intensifying even though snowfall/rain totals from Northern California sources are nearing the “normal or average” historical marks, the district declared a Drought Level Stage 1 – voluntary conservation practices aimed at reducing usage by 10 percent - and recently posted an online calculator to assist customers in determining how rates will be affected in the event of water rationing.

Water-use restrictions have been something Vallecitos has been able to avoid so far, but as many of the state’s reservoirs remain well below where they should be at this time and average snow/rainfall not realistically being able to restore them in short order, rationing may be the only option in the near future as determined by MWD and the San Diego County Water Authority wholesale agencies.

As detailed in Vallecitos Water District’s Board-approved ordinance, the voluntary conservation actions for Level 1 include:

Avoiding the washing down of pavements, including sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, tennis courts, or patios

Preventing water waste associated with inefficient landscape irrigation as well as flows onto non-targeted areas such as nearby properties, hardscapes, or roadways - which is also prohibited based upon the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board regulations that do not allow runoff

Irrigating only before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

Using a hand-held hose equipped with a positive shut-off nozzle or bucket to irrigate landscapes not connected to an automatic system

Using re-circulated water to operate ornamental fountains

Washing vehicles using a bucket and hand-held hose with positive shut-off nozzle, mobile high pressure/low volume wash system or at a commercial site that re-circulates water onsite.

Serving and refilling water in restaurants only upon request

Offering guests of commercial lodging the option of not laundering towels and linens daily

Repairing all water leaks within five days of notification by Vallecitos Water District

Using recycled or non-potable water for construction purposes, when available.

For more conservation advice, all are invited to contact the Vallecitos Water District Conservation Office at (760) 744-0460.

San Marcos Bookkeeper Accused of Embezzling $10 million

Annette Yeomans, 51, the bookkeeper for a North County manufacturing business was arrested by Sheriff’s deputies on accusations of embezzling nearly $10 million from her employer to fund her lavish shoe collection, remodel her home, vacation in Italy and gamble, authorities said. An average of $100,000 a month was embezzled from Quality Woodworks, Inc., while she was chief financial officer from 2001 to 2007, according to Sheriff's investigators.

As a result, the San Marcos cabinetry business was forced to lay off about 30 employees and restructure their operations. Yeoman surrendered to authorities last Friday morning and was booked into Vista jail on $10 million bail on suspicion of grand theft and embezzlement.

The Sheriff's Financial Fraud unit had run an investigation for a year. This investigtion showed that Yeoman would spend $25,000 on her credit card each week and then pay off the balance the following Monday with company funds. Much of the weekly expenditure was for gambling debts. She was fond of casino action, according to the Sheriff’s report.

Other expenses would include spending nearly $25,000 to remodel her closet to house about 400 pairs of shoes valued at $240,000, as well as 160 designer purses valued at $2,000 each.

The posh dressing room included a crystal chandelier, granite-topped center island and 32-inch plasma television, according to authorities. Investigators also found that Yeoman, who was arraigned this Monday in Vista Superior Court, was able to hide her alleged crime from the company due to her position of trust.

But that ended when American Express noticed the pattern of payments made with company checks and made a phone call to the business. Yeomans was fired last year and agreed to turn over her assets to the company, which has recovered about $2 million from the sale of her home, some cars and other property, Varnau said. Her husband was a cabinet installer at Quality Woodworks but was not suspected of any crime, Varnau said.

Half Price Fundraising Sale to Aid Brandeis University

Bargains galore beginning tomorrow. That’s the call being put out by the San Dieguito Chapter of the Brandeis National Committee which is spearheading a major fundraising effort featuring books, men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, jewelry, housewares and much, much more. What’s more, beginning at 10am tomorrow, Friday, March 13th, everything is available at 50% off!

The sale runs through Sunday, March 15th but tomorrow is the kickoff of the 50% reduction sale. The sales runs from 10am to 4:30pm, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday (or until they are sold out).

The event is held at 4231-A Oceanside Blvd., Oceanside, which is the Ralph’s Shopping Center at College and Oceanside Blvd.

Proceeds will go toward funding Brandeis University student scholarships. Questions? Call 760.434.2465. Ask for Bea.

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