Members of the Sutter Coast Hospital Board of Directors took no action Tuesday night on a recently-completed strategic options study that analyzed the best direction to take for Crescent City’s hospital, which officials say has been operating millions of dollars in the red since 2011.
Instead, the board decided to allow additional time for public comment with a goal of taking a vote on the options presented in the study during its Dec. 5 meeting.
The $170,000 study conducted by the Camden Group, a health-care consultant, looked at the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of options, including:
• Continuing hospital operations as a Sutter Health Corp. affiliate with a mostly local
• Maintaining Sutter affiliation but merging with its West Bay Region and dissolving the local governing board.
• Divesting from Sutter Health and affiliating with another health system (such as Asante Health, which operates hospitals in Grants Pass and Medford).
• Divesting from Sutter Health and operating Sutter Coast as an independent entity.
The study also analyzed options available to the hospital to improve revenue, including pursuit of becoming a Critical Access Hospital, a federal designation created to help rural hospitals stay open by providing cost-based reimbursements for Medicare patients. That would also require the hospital to reduce its total number of beds for general patient care.
A 15-member group of community leaders that served as a steering committee for the study decided that only two of those options were viable: sticking with Sutter Health and pursuing a Critical Access Hospital status or affiliating with another hospital system while pursuing CAH designation.
Steering committee members were polled several times throughout the study on which option they thought the hospital board should pursue. During the last vote, there was unanimous consensus that the hospital board should stick with Sutter Health and pursue Critical Access designation, according to the Camden Group.
Opponents of merging with a Sutter Health regional board say that the local board should seriously evaluate affiliating with another health system. They have often cited Asante as potentially a more geographically sensible parent company.
Ken Hall, chairman of the Sutter Coast Board, said that although Asante and other hospital systems have said they have an “interest,” they have never approached the hospital board or other Sutter Coast representatives with an offer.
“I don’t think there’s any real interest there,” Hall said, adding he doesn’t think it’s “viable” partially because of the steep investment involved for another health system to become the affiliate of Sutter Coast. “It’s a California hospital and (Asante) is not a California corporation.”
Hall also said that there is a possibility that the board will pursue Critical Access designation before merging (or regionalizing) with a Sutter Health region.