Every year seems to bring one challenge after another, and in California, we’re used to tackling them head-on. But while Californians have become accustomed to wildfire season and the unpredictability it brings, patients in Contra Costa County have unfortunately also become accustomed to their quality of emergency medical services (EMS) going up in flames. To make matters worse, our state officials are considering legislation that would guarantee this inadequate patient care continues.
As many Contra Costa residents are well aware, the county fire departments have absorbed ambulance services – previously provided by private operators at a lower cost to taxpayers – to pad their already bloated pensions since 2016. What many residents probably don’t know, is that 60 to 80 percent of the fire department’s budget goes to paying off their pension obligations. The California Pension Tracker notes that the market basis pension liability per household is $81,634. That sum surpasses many residents’ annual income. To fund upcoming pension payments that are currently underfunded, fire unions have called for additional tax measures and service redistribution that ultimately leaves county residents at a disadvantage. So, while residents are seeing costs go up, they’re seeing EMS response times and quality of care diminish. That’s just not right.
In Contra Costa, our ambulance services are dictated by something deemed the Alliance model. This is where the fire department is given complete control of all emergency services, without the typical oversight of an EMS agency. This type of model breeds misbehavior because oversight is virtually non-existent, and the fire department can run ambulance services as they see fit. It’s no wonder that in 2018 the California Emergency Medical Services Authority (CEMSA) suspected that Costa Costa’s largest fire department, ConFire, colluded with the county’s local EMS Agency to rig bidding on contracts that supported public-private partnerships in ambulance services. They simply want the services for themselves, while subcontracting it to a private company for cheap. A win-win for ConFire, but a loss for everyone else.
Assemblyman Tim Grayson introduced legislation that would codify this backwards EMS services model at the state level, and Contra Costa’s misbehavior will become commonplace. Assembly Bill 389 (AB 389) allows a county to develop an EMS program where the fire department holds all decision-making power regarding ambulance services. AB 389 not only hurts the patients EMS programs serve, but it also hurts the programs’ workers too. This legislation hinders the worker’s ability to bargain over working conditions, like fatigue relief, and is one of the many reasons both AFSCME and SEIU have publicly opposed it.
As healthcare workers are already facing higher levels of burnout and exhaustion, now is not the time to diminish what benefits they are rightfully given. Instead of championing measures that support high-functioning workers and elevated patient care, state officials are being hoodwinked by fire unions to further their own agendas. I find it troubling that ConFire gave themselves a 15 percent raise in the middle of a pandemic, rather than putting money towards community services. Yet, state officials still think they are the poster child of success and other counties should follow their lead.
Our elected officials should support legislation where quality care for patients and quality pay for EMS workers are the foundation, not inflating pensions to keep with the current status quo. Fires are raging across our great state, and that’s where fire unions should keep their focus.
Governor, Senator Glazer and Assembly Member Bauer-Kahan reach accord on protecting Tesla’s 3,100-acre unique habitat
CONTRA COSTA – Thousands of acres of East Bay wilderness threatened by the expansion of an off-highway vehicle park will instead be preserved under an agreement reached Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature, state Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) and Assembly Member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) announced.
The agreement, if approved by the Legislature next week, will end plans to expand the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area into the 3,100-acre Tesla parcel in the southeast corner of Alameda County, east of Livermore along the San Joaquin County line, which scientists have described as a biologically unique habitat and Native Americans have long considered to be a sensitive historical site.
That land will now become a new state park closed to motorized recreation. The state will reimburse the Off-Highway Vehicle fund for the purchase price of the land, its appreciation in value, and the money spent planning the expansion, which was opposed from the start 20 years ago by nearby residents and public agencies. That money will go toward the purchase and development of an off-road park at another location.
“This is a win-win for all involved,” Sen. Glazer said. “Our community and region gets to preserve this natural and cultural treasure while the off-road enthusiasts will keep their current park and receive funding to develop another park on land that’s more suitable to that kind of recreation.”
Assembly Member Bauer-Kahan said she was pleased that the agreement will end years of doubt about the fate of the area’s rich biological and cultural resources.
“We are incredibly thankful that the governor has seen Tesla Park’s value and included it in the ongoing protection of critical natural resources,” Bauer-Kahan said. “It has been my great honor to fight alongside Senator Glazer, the Sierra Club, Friends of Tesla Park and countless organizations and individuals to ensure this land will be protected and enjoyed by all of California’s citizens.”
Preserving the Tesla land was a major priority for environmentalists, including the Sierra Club.
“We applaud the decision by the California Legislature and Administration to preserve the important ecological value and biodiversity of Tesla Park by banning off-highway vehicle recreational use,” said Brandon Dawson, director of the Sierra Club California. “Sierra Club California and our local allies have advocated for decades to protect Tesla Park. This agreement represents a major victory for environmentalists across the state.”
“I want to thank Senator Steve Glazer and Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan for their persistence to protect this valued land,” Dawson said. “This would not be possible without their championing of the area.”
Nancy Rodrigue, a leading member of the Friends of Tesla Park steering committee and Livermore resident, said she was proud that years of hard work and persistence paid off.
“Tesla Park will now forever be protected with no motorized recreation. The future holds Tesla as a protected native landscape for hikers, history buffs, nature lovers, research and education,” Rodrigue said. “Saving Tesla Park has been a long, difficult, and now rewarding journey. We want to thank the many local officials, public agencies, community organizations and citizens who saw Tesla’s true value – its irreplaceable biodiversity and cultural riches. We are grateful for the tremendous work of so many, including Senator Glazer and Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan, for saving Tesla Park as a legacy for future generations.”
Senator Glazer has been a leading voice in the Legislature to preserve Tesla and turn it into a park for non-motorized use. He has carried legislation every year since 2018 to allow or require the Department of Parks and Recreation to end its plans to expand the Carnegie off-road park and instead preserve the Tesla land, either by selling it to a third party or keeping it under state control.
That effort began as a partnership with former Assembly Member Catharine Baker of Livermore. Baker helped rally local officials to the cause, but Glazer’s early bills, while passing in the Senate, were blocked in the Assembly despite Baker’s support.
Assembly Member Bauer-Kahan joined the battle to save the Tesla parcel after her 2018 election and was able to persuade her fellow Assembly members, including the leadership, to join the Senate’s effort to preserve the land.
With both houses of the Legislature united, Glazer and Bauer-Kahan were finally able to convince the Newsom Administration this year that the idea of expanding the Carnegie park was doomed to failure.
Their argument was bolstered by a Superior Court judge’s ruling that the State Department of Parks and Recreation’s 2016 environmental impact report and general plan for Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area, which included opening the Tesla land to off highway vehicle (OHV) recreation, was legally invalid.
“I want to thank Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon for their vision in seeing that this land was not appropriate for off-road vehicle use and for finding a way to preserve it,” Glazer said. “I also want to thank Gov. Newsom for taking a fresh look at this issue and agreeing to move in a new and better direction.”
The agreement will repay the Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund $18.3 million for the estimated current value of the land plus $2.4 million that the fund used for planning the current park’s expansion. Another $11.5 million will be set aside for planning and construction of an alternative off-road park, while $1 million will go toward turning the Tesla property into a non-OHV park.
The Tesla land offers rare and valuable diversity such as Blue Oak woodland, mountain savannah grassland, scrub sage, and riparian woodlands. It is a richly biodiverse area that has drawn naturalists, ecologists, zoologists, and other scientists to that land for more than 100 years to study nature and natural systems.
It has been known by generations of scientists for its extraordinary biodiversity, including numerous threatened and endangered species. It is a critical linkage wildlife habitat corridor, a California Native Plant Society botanical priority protection area and Audubon important bird area. Native Californian archaeological and ceremonial sites and the historic town site and coal mine of Tesla are also located on the 3,100-acre Tesla site.
See more photos and information at SaveTeslaPark.org.Read More
Two struck including a child, other person dies
By Jimmy Lee, Director of Public Affairs, Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff
Wednesday afternoon at about 2:56 pm, Lafayette police officers were advised of a vehicle versus pedestrian collision in front of Stanley Middle School located at 3455 School Street in Lafayette.
One person was reported to be trapped under a vehicle. Lafayette police officers, who were assisted by citizens, were able to pull an unresponsive person out from under the vehicle. Officers administered CPR until relieved by fire department personnel. He was later transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced deceased. He is not being identified at this time.
One child, who was also struck by the vehicle, suffered minor injuries. He was taken to a hospital as a precaution.
An investigation is underway. The driver of the vehicle is cooperative and has been interviewed. The driver is not being identified.
Anyone with information on this incident is asked to contact Sgt. C. Jacquez of the Lafayette Police Department at (925) 299-3234 or by email – email@example.com.
Due Sept. 24; Academy begins Oct. 13
By Scott Alonso, PIO, Contra Costa County Office of the District Attorney
District Attorney Diana Becton announced Tuesday, that the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office will launch a fourth Community Academy class this October. The goal of the academy will be to strengthen community relations and provide residents a better understanding of our criminal justice system. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, this fall’s class will be limited, and social distancing measures will be followed. Participants will be required to wear a mask while participating during the academy.
The academy is free and is open to residents who live or work in Contra Costa County. Individuals must complete an application and background check when they apply. Residents can access an application on our website or residents may also apply in-person at one of our offices at the following locations:
- 900 Ward Street, Martinez, CA 94553
- 10 Douglas Drive Suite 130, Martinez, CA 94553
- 100 37th St. Room 220, Richmond, CA 94805
Residents can submit the applications to the attention of Scott Alonso. Applicants may also email DA-CommunityAcademy@contracostada.org with their completed application. The application period ends on September 24, 2021.
The Community Academy will be made up of at least 10 individuals for a 9-week course held at the DA’s Office in downtown Martinez, 900 Ward Street from 5:30-7:30 p.m. every Wednesday starting October 13, 2021. The Community Academy, which is similar to Citizens’ Academies hosted by many law enforcement agencies, is the only academy of its kind at a District Attorney’s Office in Northern California.
The academy helps underscore the office’s commitment to engaging and educating residents of Contra Costa County. Admitted applicants can expect to learn how cases are filed, the different types of crimes our office investigates and prosecutes, and the work we do not only prosecuting cases but also the community outreach efforts underway to prevent crime and to support children, parents and crime victims. The comprehensive overview by our office will allow residents to get an in-depth examination and review of the criminal justice system in our community.Read More
Victims from Bay Point and Oakley identified
By CHP – Contra Costa
Saturday night, Sept. 4, 2021, at approximately 11:14 pm, CHP Contra Costa was advised of a vehicle vs. pedestrians collision at 8321 Byron Hwy in Knightsen. Upon CHP and emergency personnel arrival, two pedestrians had been struck by a vehicle and that vehicle (a 2002 Subaru Impreza), along with the driver (18-year-old male from Knightsen), were also located. Tragically both pedestrians were killed as a result of the crash (18-year-old female from Bay Point and 16-year-old male from Oakley).
The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Office identified the deceased pedestrians as Kassandra Sepulveda of Bay Point and Luis Esparza of Oakley.
The 18-year-old driver of the Subaru was investigated for DUI at the scene and subsequently placed under arrest for suspicion of Felony DUI driving, resulting in the death of both pedestrians. The driver was transported to the Martinez detention facility and booked into jail for: FELONY DUI 23153(a)VC and Gross Vehicular Manslaughter 191.5(a)PC.
The suspected DUI and Manslaughter driver is Colby Sharver.Read More
Application deadline Sept. 30
Contra Costa County (County) is accepting applications for the upcoming Member at Large opening on the Aviation Advisory Committee (AAC). The term begins March 1, 2022, upon appointment by the Airport Committee, and expires on February 28, 2025. Residents of and/or employees in Contra Costa County are eligible to fill this position to represent all County stakeholders in matters related to Buchanan Field and Byron Airports.
The AAC serves as an advisory group to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors (Board) to provide advice and recommendations to the Board on aviation matters related to the Contra Costa County Airports. The AAC typically meets once per month on the second Thursday of the month at 10:00 a.m., in person or via Zoom during the pandemic at either Buchanan Field or Byron Airport.
Application forms can be obtained from the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors by calling (925) 655-2000 or at: https://www.contracosta.ca.gov/3418/Appointed-Bodies-Committees-Commissions. Applications should be submitted online or returned to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, County Administration Building, 1025 Escobar Street, 1st Floor, Martinez, CA 94553, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 30, 2021. Applicants should plan to be available for public/Zoom interviews, tentatively scheduled for December 8, 2021 at 11:00 am at the Airports Committee Meeting.
For more information on the Contra Costa County Airports or the AAC visit us at www.ContraCostaCountyAirports.org or by calling (844) Fly-ToUs or (844) 359-8687.
CONTACT: Keith Freitas at (844) 359-8687, or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Scott Alonso, PIO, Contra Costa County Office of the District Attorney
Last week, defendant Donald Kelly of Bay Point (date of birth October 31, 1980) was found guilty of attempted criminal threats, a felony, and brandishing a replica firearm, a misdemeanor, against a female victim. Kelly faces up to three years in state prison for the attempted criminal threats conviction.
On March 2, 2021, the victim was in a car outside an apartment complex on the corner of Belle Monte Ave and Willow Pass Road in Bay Point. The defendant appeared outside the victim’s car and held what appeared to be a semi-automatic firearm and pointed it at the victim’s head. Kelly yelled at the victim and stated, “This is a real gun.” Another witness who observed the interaction between Kelly and the victim heard Kelly also yell that he was going to shoot the victim. Kelly fled the scene after the victim called 911. He was detained shortly after he left the scene. When Kelly was detained, deputies located a replica Sig Sauer P226 firearm.
Deputy District Attorney Haleigh Parkinson prosecuted the case on behalf of the People. The defendant will be sentenced on September 17 before the Honorable Wade Rhyne. The case was investigated by the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office. The DA’s Office originally filed criminal charges against Kelly in March of this year.
Case information: People v. Donald Kelly, Docket Number 04-201411-6.Read More
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) reminds travelers that tolling operations for the new 11-mile Express Lane along southbound Interstate 680 from Martinez through Walnut Creek have now started.
By linking with the existing Express Lane from Rudgear Road in Walnut Creek to Alcosta Boulevard in San Ramon, this will create a continuous 22-mile southbound I-680 Express Lane through Contra Costa County.
The stretch of I-680 from Marina Vista Blvd. in Martinez to Rudgear Road currently operates as a traditional carpool lane. Tolling rules include:
- All vehicles must have a FasTrak® toll tag to use the Express Lanes;
- Carpools with two or more people, vanpools, buses and motorcycles travel toll-free with a FasTrak Flex toll tag set to the 2 or 3+ position;
- Solo drivers of eligible clean-air vehicles (CAVs) pay half-price tolls with a FasTrak CAV toll tag. Eligible CAVs are those with red, purple, orange or blue decals; and
- Other solo drivers pay the full toll to use the Express Lanes with either a standard FasTrak toll tag or a FasTrak Flex tag set to the 1 position.
Operating hours for Express Lanes are weekdays from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tolls rise as traffic increases and fall as traffic declines. Digital signs over the roadway display the toll rates for various destinations. Customers always pay the toll displayed when they enter the Express Lane, even if toll rates change during their trip. Toll-paying customers pay for each toll zone they enter. There are five southbound toll zones from Martinez to San Ramon.
Express Lanes are designed to keep traffic moving reliably without congestion, and to encourage travelers to carpool or use transit to get a free and faster trip. Drivers can visit 511.org to learn everything they need to know to use Bay Area Express Lanes, how to find a carpool match, and how to sign up for FasTrak.Read More
By U.S. Department of Justice
Sutter Health, a California-based health care services provider, and several affiliated entities including Sutter Bay Medical Foundation (dba Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation, and Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation) and Sutter Valley Medical Foundation (dba Sutter Gould Medical Foundation and Sutter Medical Foundation) (collectively, “Sutter Health”), have agreed to pay $90 million to resolve allegations that Sutter Health violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting inaccurate information about the health status of beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans.
Under Medicare Advantage, also known as the Medicare Part C program, Medicare beneficiaries have the option of enrolling in managed health care insurance plans called Medicare Advantage Plans. The plans are paid a capitated, or per-person, amount to provide Medicare-covered benefits to beneficiaries who enroll in one of their plans. Payments to plans are based on demographic information and the health status of each plan beneficiary. In general, plans receive larger payments for beneficiaries with more severe diagnoses.
Sutter Health, headquartered in Sacramento, contracted to provide health care services to California beneficiaries enrolled in certain plans. In exchange, Sutter Health received a portion of the payments for treating the beneficiaries under its care.
The government alleged that Sutter Health knowingly submitted unsupported diagnosis codes for certain patient encounters for beneficiaries under its care. These unsupported diagnosis codes caused inflated payments to be made to the plans and to Sutter Health. The lawsuit further alleged that, once Sutter Health became aware of these unsupported diagnosis codes, it failed to take sufficient corrective action to identify and delete additional unsupported diagnosis codes.
“The government relies on health care providers, including those furnishing services to Medicare Part C beneficiaries, to submit accurate information to ensure proper payment,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sarah E. Harrington of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Today’s result sends a clear message that we will hold health care providers responsible if they knowingly provide or fail to correct information that is untruthful.”
“Today’s settlement exemplifies our commitment to fighting fraud in the Medicare program,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California. “Health care providers who flout the law need to know that my office will hold accountable those who pad their bottom line at taxpayer expense.”
“The knowing submission of inaccurate information to Medicare diverts funds from this vital health care program, which is a disservice to patients needing care,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven J. Ryan for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of federal health care programs and hold accountable entities who engage in false claims practices.”
In connection with the settlement, Sutter Health, Sutter Bay Medical Foundation and Sutter Valley Medical Foundation entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). The CIA requires, among other things, that Sutter Health implement a centralized risk assessment program as part of its compliance program and hire an Independent Review Organization to annually review a sample of Sutter Health’s Medicare Advantage patients’ medical records and associated diagnoses data.
The civil settlement includes the resolution of claims brought under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act by Kathleen Ormsby, a former employee of Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Under those provisions, a private party can file an action on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of any recovery. The Act permits the government to intervene in such lawsuits, as it has done in this case as to claims submitted for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Although the United States did not intervene as to claims submitted by the remaining Sutter affiliates, Ms. Ormsby continued to pursue those claims, some of which are also being resolved by this settlement. The qui tam case is captioned United States ex rel. Ormsby v. Sutter Health, et al., No. 15-CV-01062-LB (N.D. Cal.).
The resolution obtained in this matter resulted from a coordinated effort between the Justice Department’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch, Fraud Section, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, with assistance from HHS-OIG.
The investigation and resolution of this matter illustrate the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Tips and complaints from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement, can be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).
The matter was handled by Attorneys Olga Yevtukhova, Jennifer J. Koh, Thomas Morris and Lyle Gruby of the Civil Division’s Fraud Section and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wolinsky for the Northern District of California, with assistance from Jonathan Birch.
Sutter Health Responds
Sutter Health on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021 announced that it has entered into an agreement with the federal government and a private plaintiff to resolve a False Claims Act lawsuit filed in 2015 involving Medicare Advantage claims related to its medical foundation operations. The matter was partially resolved in April 2019 for $30 million (a fact not included by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in its press release regarding the settlement). Under the follow-on agreement announced today, Sutter will pay an additional $60 million (not $90 million) to fully resolve the litigation. The agreement makes clear that Sutter and its medical foundation affiliates admit no liability in agreeing to settle the matter.
As part of this resolution, Sutter has also concurrently entered into a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The CIA, Sutter’s first, is intended to promote compliance with federal healthcare program requirements over a period of five years and includes specific elements that must be in place and monitored.
Sutter’s Ethics and Compliance Services team is responsible for overseeing Sutter’s compliance with the CIA. Sutter looks forward to collaborating with OIG over the term of the agreement. In 2017, PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a compliance program assessment finding Sutter’s program to be effective, with several areas identified as leading practices. Sutter has since maintained and enhanced these program elements and is well-prepared to implement the terms of the agreement.
Today’s agreements bring closure to a long-running dispute, allowing Sutter to avoid the uncertainty and further expense of protracted litigation, and enabling a constructive relationship with the government as we work together under the CIA.
The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.