It is with sadness that I completed my Columbia County Ballot, voting yes on ballot measure 5-217 to dissolve the Columbia Health District. I am depressed because we desperately need a local hospital and this dissolution will pretty much ensure that we will not have one in my lifetime.

Accolades are deserved for the various people who sat on the district board since the district was formed in 2004. It distresses me to see editorials and fellow citizens questioning the integrity of these former board members. They worked selflessly on our behalf to make the will of the voters come to fruition. They spent the taxpayers' money wisely, buying land and then arranging for the off-site and on-site improvements when the economy allowed them to negotiate the most advantageous pricing.

Accusations of personal gain or mismanagement of the public's money are totally unfounded. They hired the best and most knowledgeable advisors and consultants to assist them in making our hospital a reality. No one could have forecast the reaction of Mr. Grant Higginson, the Oregon administrator who constantly denied our petitions to build the hospital. He was given dictatorial powers by the Legislature and he surely used them to show his power over the Columbia Health District.

Nothing presented at the public hearings or in written testimony would lead a rational person to deny our right to our hospital; our citizens had spoken with their vote in 2004and subsequently with their pocketbooks, confirming repeatedly that they wanted that hospital.

We will never know what really influenced this man or who was buying him lunch in Salem and in Portland to manipulate his decision.

One of my close neighbors died recently on the way to the hospital in Portland while his wife was driving.

He had complained of some minor chest pain after supper and did not think it was serious enough to call Columbia River Fire and Rescue.

If the hospital had been here, she would have taken him there and he would probably would be alive today. It would have been a three-minute drive from their home.

As it happened, 20 minutes out of St. Helens he died.

This is a story that unfortunately you have read before and it will continue to be a common occurrence.

I hope the Legislature will remove the dictatorial power from Grant Higginson and we can once again petition Salem for a local hospital which we desperately need for a variety of reasons.

- Robert J. Braud, St. Helens

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