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Coastal Voices: Same services offered under Critical Access

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of recognizing our staff at The Sutter Coast Hospital Annual Awards Ceremony.

We recognized Clinical Ladder recipients (nurses taking on special projects for the betterment of our patients), employees of the month and employee of the year and our long-tenured employees. 

Many awards were given to employees who have worked here for 20, 25, 30 and even 45 years! These employees love working for Sutter Health and love what they do taking care of you, our patients.

I also had the pleasure and honor recently of presenting at the Del Norte Economic Summit. I was able to share that Sutter Coast has provided $37 million in health care services in the last 10 years to patients unable to pay.  We have also provided $700,000-plus in the last 10 years to support and partner with local not for profit organizations.

There continues to be a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding the decision to become a Critical Access Hospital.

It is our commitment and desire to continue being a full-service hospital and an active community partner. This compels us to move forward with plans to become a Critical Access Hospital for the residents of Del Norte and Curry counties. We will continue to answer questions and reassure you that you can feel confident knowing that your full service hospital remains intact. 

There has been considerable concern and misinformation expressed about limiting our in-use beds to 25. It is important to remember that the average daily census for 2013 was 20. To change our bed capacity to 25 is “right sizing” this hospital.

These beds are empty every day — and have been for years. Declines in hospital census are not unique to Sutter Coast. They are part of a nationwide trend with technological and clinical advancements, which allow for more procedures being performed outside of acute care hospitals.

Another area of community concern and misinformation has been state law regarding lifting the 25-bed limit in the event of a declared disaster — a natural or human-caused disaster, a crime incident or transportation accident resulting in numerous mass casualties, an emergency causing the evacuation of patients or diversions from another hospital — for example.

 Depending on the severity, you will see emergency response taking actions throughout our county.  In appreciation for the well-trained team of staff and volunteers throughout the county, our residents can be assured that we are prepared for the types of disasters unique to us.  Our hospital regularly participates with the community planning groups to practice in the event of a disaster. Available medical personnel will take care of patients as accessible. In a declared emergency, we will act and respond the same as we would today. Again, the 25-bed limit is waived in a declared disaster.

Will we have to occasionally transfer patients out of the hospital due to our bed capacity? The answer is, “Yes, we will.” And we do today.  Approximately 660 patients are transferred every year.  These patients are transferred for a variety of reasons such as services needed, condition, acuity, etc.  

We have determined that if we were already a Critical Access hospital that in the last 12 months, we would have had to transfer approximately 40 additional patients out. Forty additional patients in the year is a 6 percent increase. I understand that if you are one of those patients, it doesn’t matter to you if it’s one or 40.  

We are working with a team to mitigate transfers and look closely at bed management. We strongly encourage residents to consider a family membership to Cal-Ore Life Flight and Del Norte Ambulance. It’s an inexpensive option that makes a lot of sense in such a rural area. With or without Critical Access, your family could be protected from these expenses in the event of an emergency or transfer.  

My hope is that you will continue to have faith in the 500-plus employees at Sutter Coast Hospital and trust that we are here to serve you — and to continue to provide for our families in this community. These employees receive $38 million in salary and generous benefits every year, including a fully funded pension. This helps our local economy in more ways than I can count.

Our mission remains unchanged — to enhance the well-being of people in the communities we serve, through a not-for-profit commitment to compassion and excellence in health-care services.

Remember that a viable full service hospital will sustain real estate values, jobs and services in our community. We are offering the same services after our CAH designation as we offer today.

Linda Horn is the interim chief executive officer at Sutter Coast Hospital.

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