Never underestimate the difficulty of changing false beliefs by facts — Henry Rosovsky
I am writing in response to a recent editorial by Mr. Scott Feller (“Judge hospital facts for yourself,” July 3), Sutter Health’s latest appointee to the Board of Directors of Sutter Coast Hospital.
The title of Mr. Feller’s opinion piece poses a dilemma — how can anyone judge the facts when Sutter Health won’t release the facts? Despite formal requests by our elected officials, Sutter refuses to release meeting minutes and financial documents necessary to discern the suitability of Sutter’s plans for our community. Sutter frequently releases their paid advertisements and editorials by individuals connected with Sutter, but nothing of substance.
Recently, the Humboldt-Del Norte Medical Society and the California Medical Association released a policy statement opposing Sutter Health’s plans for regionalization and Critical Access designation at Sutter Coast (“Medical Society against regionalization,” June 14). California Medical Association opposes Critical Access for our hospital because it will mandate the closure of 50 percent of our acute care beds and will restrict the length of hospital stay to an average of 96 hours or less. These restrictions will reduce our ability to meet the medical and surgical needs of our patients, hamper recruitment efforts for doctors and harm the growth and economic wellbeing of our county.
Sutter officials have repeatedly claimed that the higher Medicare payments to Sutter Coast under Critical Access are essential for the very existence of Sutter Coast. Yet recently, Sutter Regional President Mike Cohill told local leaders that in the beginning of 2014, the hospital was profitable. Cohill’s remark demonstrates the fallacies of Sutter’s prior statements and the findings of their self-funded “independent study,” which concluded that Sutter Coast could not be profitable unless it downsized to Critical Access.
Here is a fact everyone agrees on: Critical Access will put more money into Sutter’s coffers. A case in point is Sutter Lakeside, a hospital somewhat less busy than Sutter Coast, located in Lakeport. After downsizing to Critical Access, emergency patient transfers out of Sutter Lakeside Hospital more than quadrupled. At the same time, Sutter Lakeside became the No. 1 recipient of Medicare dollars among our nation’s 1,329 Critical Access hospitals.
The reason patient transfers increased and Medicare paid more to Sutter Lakeside than any other Critical Access hospital is simple: Sutter is misusing the program. Critical Access was funded to maintain tiny rural hospitals, not to pay hospitals to downsize to “fit” the program. Let’s avoid the same outcome here in Del Norte County!
Mr. Feller mentions that Sutter Coast is accredited by the Joint Commission, but neglects to mention that a special Joint Commission surveyor determined Sutter Coast was out of compliance with four standards of care. The surveyor cited the Sutter Coast Hospital Board for failing to show good faith in dispute resolution with hospital physicians and for implementing policies without physician input, in violation of hospital bylaws. Ask Sutter Coast’s administration for the Joint Commission report of June 2013 to see for yourself.
Mr. Feller also mentions “unsubstantiated” complaints filed with state and federal agencies. A complaint that Sutter Coast was operating without a chief financial officer in violation of the California Corporations Code, was filed with the California Department of Public Health. It is a fact Sutter Coast had no CFO from July 2011 through December 2013, the only period in which Sutter Coast ever declared an annual loss. After the state investigation, Sutter finally appointed a hospital CFO, in December 2013. Then, in the beginning of 2014, we learn that Sutter Coast is again profitable!
Mr. Feller writes that his findings are based on “many days” of reading hospital documents and participation on Sutter’s self-funded study. My findings are based on more than 20 years of patient care in this community. Mr. Feller also omits a critical fact — he was required to sign two separate confidentiality agreements for Sutter. So Mr. Feller (and everyone else on the hospital board) can tell you only what Sutter allows.
Finally, Mr. Feller restates the tired and already refuted claim that Sutter Health owns Sutter Coast Hospital. Mike Cohill, Sutter’s regional president, has already answered that question. In a recorded meeting held Aug. 2, 2012, in Crescent City, Mr. Cohill confirmed that Sutter Coast Hospital (not Sutter Health) owns the hospital. Ask hospital administration for a meeting transcript, and ask yourself the following: If Sutter Health already owned Sutter Coast Hospital, why would they need the Hospital Board’s permission to transfer ownership out of the county?
Following the Hospital Board’s closed-door vote to regionalize Sutter Coast, our community leaders and residents overwhelmingly opposed the transfer of ownership. Only then did the Sutter Coast Hospital Board decide to temporarily postpone regionalization. But they also refused to rescind their prior vote to regionalize Sutter Coast, refused to allow observers in the boardroom, refused to restore draft board meeting minutes which had been deleted by a Sutter Health attorney, and refused to answer a letter of concern from the Sutter Coast medical staff regarding the future of the hospital.
I suspect the more than 3,000 local residents who have signed a petition opposing Sutter’s plans did so for one primary reason — Sutter Health’s plans are good for Sutter, bad for us.
Mark H. Davis is a medical doctor in Crescent City.