Hed Lines: Working for a "soap opera" newspaper for a week

I attended a meeting of the Palo Verde Healthcare District board Thursday in Blythe, Calif., that kind of summed up my weeklong stay in the farming and prison town along the Colorado River.

A Mexican immigrant went to the podium in the former chapel in the converted Mormon church to speak her mind on issues close to her heart.

She defended an embattled doctor who lost privileges at Palo Verde Hospital.

She also attacked what has become a target in a contentious battle between the district and the administration and board at Palo Verde Hospital: the twice-weekly Palo Verde Valley Times.

She used a Spanish term for soap opera to describe the newspaper.

Alleging media bias, the doctor called the Times a "hospital tabloid."

Readers, I played a small part in what may be a real-life soap opera - sans the sexual improprieties - last week while on assignment for the Blythe paper, a former employer.

It may be more accurate to describe the situation as a power struggle between two factions.

On one side, the health care district board apparently believes that the company that operates the 55-bed hospital through a lease is greedy and sacrifices quality in the pursuit of profits.

The hospital administration in turn questions the motives of the five-person district board, which includes two doctors.

The administration believes the district board wants to take over the hospital.

By taking over the hospital, doctors can control competition, according to a hospital board member.

The hospital administration may be more skilled in public relations and, on the surface, seems more likeable than members of the district board and their allies.

By contrast, members of the opposing faction have a combative relationship with the newspaper.

And because of that relationship, the above doctor and a physician serving on the district board will not talk to the sole editorial staffer of the newspaper.

I arrived in town to cover the story, and got both doctors to meet with me when I arrived at their offices unannounced.

The embattled doctor gave me a copy of a letter that he sent to the state attorney general in which he answered charges made by the hospital administrator that he had released confidential information during a meeting.

The other doctor, the board member, responded to allegations from the administrator.

I filed three stories on the controversy.

I returned to Kingman Friday afternoon.

The soap opera is continuing in my absence.

**

Death did not take a holiday while I was in Blythe.

I called Linda Mautz at the Mohave County board clerk's office May 13 to ask what was going on, and learned that Linda Fosburgh, a budget analyst in the Finance Department, had lost her fight against cancer that morning.

She was 42.

I sent e-mails to her former co-workers to inquire about funeral arrangements, and made plans to attend services Saturday at Kingman Presbyterian Church.

Finance accountant Diane Melendez, a member of the church, was fortunate to arrange services for Saturday instead of a workday because her office would have had to close for several hours to accommodate Linda's numerous colleagues.

Finance staff filled two rows at the church, which drew more than 100 people who came to celebrate Linda's life and pay respect to her family.

I knew Linda for about 3 1/2 years, and quoted her in at least one column in which I used her name.

She never sought the spotlight for herself, but approached me whenever daughter Meloney, a 14-year-old aspiring model, excelled in a competition.

I profiled Meloney in the Monday feature, "Meet Your Neighbors," in July 2002.

Unfortunately, Linda, who had two children from a previous marriage and three grandchildren, did not live to see Meloney fulfill her dreams.

**

Linda reported to John Timko, the occasionally press-shy finance director.

Timko showed up for a drill in a conference room at the public works complex two weeks ago in his capacity as "public information officer" for the emergency operations center.

He was in a jovial mood.

"I was appointed," he said.

"They said, 'Who loves the press the most around here?'"

I'll borrow his words.

"No comment."

**

Ken Hedler is the county government/politics reporter for the Daily Miner.