After Saint Louise Regional Hospital released its results from a recent phone survey asking Gilroy voters if they would be in favor of a sales tax increase – an avenue the hospital is exploring in light of the exponentially growing need for a bigger emergency room – a group of Gavilan College statistics students took interest and conducted their own poll.
Student Tim Avila, 31, who is spearheading the project, noted it’s “undoubted that all of us want a bigger ER – as it provides a very valuable service.”
However, the fact that Saint Louise “didn’t publish their data” left a “bunch of unanswered questions for us,” said Avila, whose Gavilan statistics class taught by instructor Tricia Sanford looks for real-life scenarios that offer mathematical application. “We just wanted some clarity.”
Saint Louise only released the results of two poll questions, a move students felt hindered the credibility of the survey.
“Publishing the methods is always a good idea,” noted Sanford, whose class discussed the string of Dispatch stories on Saint Louise’s polling effort.
The students’ project comes on the heels of a phone survey conducted by a third party polling company and initiated by the Daughters of Charity Healthcare System, a regional network of six Central Coast hospitals that includes Saint Louise.
The Saint Louise poll surveyed approximately 500 registered voters in Gilroy by phone in the last weeks of December 2011. Having received three times the national average number of patients requiring emergency medical services in 2011 for a facility of its size, the hospital is searching for a means to expand its emergency room – which has eight beds and catered to 26,000 ER patients last year. The project will cost $25 to $30 million, according to hospital spokeswoman Jasmine Nguyen.
When asked during the Saint Louise poll about the potential of a “general purpose” sales tax increase measure ranging between one-half to one-fourth percent, 61 percent of “likely November 2012 voters” expressed support, according to Nguyen.
A half-a-percentage-point tax hike would raise the local sales tax from 8.25 percent to about 8.75 percent.
When the question about increasing the Gilroy sales tax was paired with providing funding for education, fire services, police officers or services for the elderly, 66 percent of the respondents said they would be in favor of a sales tax, Nguyen said.
The group of four Gavilan classmates have until Wednesday to complete their own study of what voters might consider come November. They considered going door to door, but decided this method “might present a barrier to getting responses, much in the way the phone does,” explained Avila. “If we go door to door, we would only get responses from those who chose to open the door. That was the problem we had with the phone survey.”
Instead, the group has taken to posting outside grocery stores and around downtown. The goal is to get responses from approximately 500 registered Gilroy voters. So far, they have gathered 406 responses while polling outside of Safeway, Nob Hill and in downtown Gilroy over the course of May 4, May 9, Saturday and Sunday.
Of the 341 registered voters who responded, approximately 59.82 percent are likely to vote in 2012 and said they would be in support of a sales tax initiative to expand the emergency room at Saint Louise.
Avila, whose team includes Gavilan students Sarah Oliphant, 16; James Rinfret, 19; and Ashley Costantino, 17 (who attends the Gilroy Early College Academy, located on the Gavilan campus) said the wording of Saint Louise’s survey questions got him interested in obtaining a “general feel for what the people of Gilroy really think about this.”
He was referring specifically to one of Saint Louise’s survey question that paired a sales tax initiative with a gamut of community services. Voters were asked what would make them supportive of a sales tax increase, then given a list of options.
According to Nguyen, 66 percent or more of the respondents said they would be in favor of sales taxes that helps maintain preschool, after-school and library programs for children and teens; fire services; neighborhood police patrols; senior services and programs; providing state-of-the-art medical technology for patients in need of emergency care; expanding cardiac services and emergency cardiac care for heart attack victims; and expanding/improving emergency services.
“To me, 66 percent is a very symbolic number,” observed Avila, referring to the fact that a new sales tax would require two-thirds approval by voters. Initially, he said, 66 percent sounded a little “suspicious.”
Whereas the Saint Louise survey was conducted via phone and lasted about 15 minutes, Avila and his classmates took a more succinct approach by asking five questions:
• Would you support a sales tax increase up to 8.75 percent to expand the Saint Louise Hospital Emergency Room?
• Are you likely to vote in November 2012?
• Which best describes your age: 18 to 35, 36 to 54, or 55 and up?
• Which best describes your political affiliation: Democratic, Republican or other?
The Dispatch followed up with several people who were polled outside Nob Hill Wednesday to see what they thought about the sales tax initiative, which in theory would only apply to Gilroy residents.
“If the (sales tax) is to benefit Saint Louise, and Saint Louise benefits all of South County, then why would it only apply to Gilroy?” replied local Bob Uhler, who was on his way into Nob Hill.
Libby Rodriquez, 47, also from Gilroy, said the sales tax should apply to Morgan Hill and Gilroy, “but not Hollister. They have their own self-sustaining hospital,” she noted, referring to Hazel Hawkins.
Others such as Susan Jacobsen, a Gilroy Realtor who lives just outside city limits, said a tax initiative “isn’t the answer.”
“They need to find another means of getting the money,” she said.
Hospital spokeswoman Jasmine Nguyen was impressed that Gavilan students made the much-needed new ER at Saint Louise the focus of a class project.
“This is great,” she said. “I would be very supportive of Tim and his team.”
Nguyen said she spoke with Avila last week, and will check to see if the hospital’s management team is interested in having Avila present his groups’ findings.
“She felt that our poll was a little bit more significant because our questions were much more direct,” said Avila.
In terms of the possibility of Saint Louise conducting a second poll, something hospital CEO Joanne Allen said could happen down the road, Nguyen has no updates to report at this time.
Avila expects to have his groups’ findings fully tabulated by the end of this week.
Saint Louise survey
• Conducted by phone by a third-party polling company in December 2011. Randomly surveyed 500 registered Gilroy voters.
• 61 percent: Number of people who were polled who would support a “general purpose” sales tax increase measure ranging between one-half to one-fourth percent.
• 66 percent: Number of people polled who would support a sales tax that helps maintain preschool, after-school and library programs for children and teens; fire services; neighborhood police patrols; senior services and programs; providing state-of-the-art medical technology for patients in need of emergency care; expanding cardiac services and emergency cardiac care for heart attack victims; and expanding/improving emergency services.
Gavilan College student survey
• Conducted in person. A group of four Gavilan students surveyed 404 people over the course of May 4, May 9, Saturday and Sunday outside of Safeway, Nob Hill and in downtown Gilroy. The goal is to survey approximately 500 registered Gilroy voters. The group will finish polling by Wednesday.
• 50.74 percent: Total percentage of the 404 responding people who were polled were registered voters, likely to vote in 2012 and said they would be in support of a sales tax initiative to expand the emergency room at Saint Louise.
• 59.82 percent: Total percentage of the 341 responding registered voters who are likely to vote in 2012 and would be in support of a sales tax initiative to expand the emergency room at Saint Louise.