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Mantecas heart needs to be healthy
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Nico Tejeda is worried about Manteca’s long-term health.

It is why the chief executive officer of Manteca’s biggest private employer — Doctors Hospital of Manteca with its 500 workers and a combined annual payroll and benefit expenditure of $40.8 million — wants to see a more vibrant downtown.

The reason is simple. Recruiting doctors and other key medical professionals is going to become an even bigger challenge in the coming years. Not only is the core of physicians who have faithfully served Manteca, Lathrop and Ripon nearing retirement but finding essential staffing for initiatives to expand health care options is becoming more of a challenge.

Tenet Corp. – the parent company that owns the medical facility that has served the South County since 1952 at their campus at North Street and Cottage Avenue in Manteca – is keeping up its end of the bargain.

The services and latest medical technology for a 72-bed hospital in a community the size of Manteca is unparalleled. To keep making the jobs of medical care providers more effective and easier as well as to better serve patients so they don’t have to hit the road for health care needs, Tenet has made significant investments. Coming up next may be a $6.7 million outpatient surgical center.

Community growth certainly isn’t an issue for recruiting.

Housing options is another key. Ripon offers some options that go beyond cookie-cutter McMansions. And River Islands at Lathrop with its upcoming 900 plus estate-style homes out of 11,000 planned that will have unprecedented commanding views of the San Joaquin River and riparian areas will also address the need for a variety of housing options.

Schools are another essential recruitment tool. Tejeda noted that the Going Digital initiative is impressive but what counts in the end is performance. The Manteca Unified game plan is to leverage the deployment of tablets into the hands of every student to keep pushing classroom results to new levels.

And that brings us to the weak sister, so to speak, in endeavors to recruit medical professionals — downtown.

Manteca is competing with an entire country needing health care professionals. There isn’t exactly a surplus of physicians and specialists. And as current physicians retire, the area grows, and the challenges of the Affordable Care Act keep changing the landscape, the supply of doctors and such is likely to lag even further.

When physicians and others do put the Northern San Joaquin Valley on their list, Manteca is immediately competing with Stockton and Modesto. While the amenities of the two communities help such as cultural endeavors ranging from the Gallo Center for the Performing Arts in Modesto and the rich community offerings of institutions such as the University of the Pacific in Stockton, at the end of the day Manteca needs a daily lifestyle draw of its own. Modesto has it in a downtown populated with restaurants and entertainment venues. Stockton is a bit more spread out along the Miracle Mile, spots in downtown and other pockets.

Manteca doesn’t have what would be called any reasonable concentration of restaurant options with outdoor dining, trendy shops, entertainment venues, or even its own community performing or static arts center. None of this has to be on a grand scale, just available and within the community.

It is a part of what physicians want to see available in Manteca for their families when they are being recruited and taken on a tour of Manteca by Tejeda.

It is also what a lot of other people want.  Tejeda also points that only 25 percent of the hospital staff that is essential for quality health care from nurses to technicians reside in Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop. He believes that is a number that would change over the years as Manteca expands its appeal.

Tejeda also happens to serve as president of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce. The business organization has undertaken initiatives aimed at enhancing the appeal of downtown including revamping the farmers market making it even more family friendly with a format dubbed Market & Music in Manteca.

But long-term and lasting changes require a whole new set of rules for downtown to allow for the development of amenities that vibrant communities possess. 

This isn’t a new pitch. Efforts to lay the foundation for such changes come up but then  get bogged down in the slow turning bureaucracy of government minutiae and private sector infighting. Everybody then gives up, the effort goes into hibernation, and then a year or so later it flares up again.

Here’s a suggestion to break the cycle: Have key elected leaders, city staff, downtown property owners, merchants, and community members tour nearby downtowns that are successful. Then decide what one would best fit using it as a starting template for Manteca. Then literally lift all of the city rules and ordinances that made it work and modify them for Manteca.

In the past Manteca has done a similar exercise but then set about working from scratch with turnovers at city hall eventually leading to the undertaking’s demise. 

To make sure that doesn’t happen, appoint a two-member committee of the council to see it through much like the city did with Big League Dreams and Great Wolf. Downtown is too important to our community’s health to let it go to the wayside.

It’s great that Manteca is close to a lot of attractions — San Francisco and the Bay Area, Yosemite and the Sierra, Napa Valley, Sacramento and so on. But at the end of the day there needs to be more vibrancy in Manteca.

It is essential figuratively and literally for the community’s long-range health.

If you doubt that, just ask Tejeda.