Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

Leaders join legal fightagainst regionalization

This week two out of two local governments agreed to ramp up opposition to the "regionalization" of Sutter Coast Hospital.

Strongly worded letters will fly, urging the Sutter Coast Hospital Board of Directors to rescind its controversial decision to step aside after 26 years and merge with Sutter Health's West Bay Region.

The months-long discussion turned a corner at Tuesday's joint meeting of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors and the Crescent City Council, with officials openly addressing the option of exploring alternative hospital systems to Sutter Health, the Sacramento-based non-profit corporation that largely controls finances and leadership at affiliated hospitals and clinics, including those in Del Norte and Curry counties.

"I think we can demand that the Sutter (Coast Hospital) board actually take a look at another management operation since we don't have confidence in their leadership," said county Supervisor Martha McClure.

The longtime chairman of the hospital board, Andy Ringgold, commented at the Triplicate's offices on Wednesday, characterizing the county's request to hear about other companies as "unusual," if it is ultimately included in the letter.

"We are part of the Sutter system. We are an affiliate of Sutter Health... It's Sutter Health preference that we regionalize. It's the governing body at this hospital. The board evaluated the scenario and decided it's in the best interest of the hospital to meld into that situation rather than remain an outlier," he said, concluding: "I'm satisfied the decision (to regionalize) was done with due diligence and a clear understanding of the implications and potential benefits far outweigh the downsides."

Currently, Sutter Coast Hospital keeps two weeks worth of operating expenses on hand, pursuant of a blanket corporate policy written into its bylaws. Any money exceeding this budget figure is transferred back to Sacramento for dispersal system-wide.

Regionalization is on hold by court order at the petition of the Del Norte County Health Care District, and on Tuesday the Crescent City Council and the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors voted to seek standing in the case. The next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 5, when a judge is expected to decide whether or not to extend the hold on regionalization and/or send the case into arbitration at the request of Sutter Health's attorneys.

Critics of regionalization, particularly a coalition of local doctors, say it's tied to the potential downsizing of the hospital from a 49-bed acute general care facility to a 25-bed critical access designation. This could mean a reduction in furnished patient beds and staffing, coupled with higher rates of reimbursement for Medicare patient services.

"Do we have any legal standing to make sure we can keep an acute care hospital in our community?" McClure asked the city and county attorneys at the meeting.

Their responses were vaguely optimistic.

"I think you have a good deal of standing to weigh in legally, legislatively," said City Attorney Bob Black.

Reach Emily Jo Cureton at