Hospital concerns draw a crowd

Written by Adam Spencer, The Triplicate July 22, 2013 05:12 pm

Supervisors explore options to prevent regionalization as joining study reconsidered

At least 90 concerned Del Norte residents attended an information-only meeting between members of the Del Norte Healthcare District and the county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday after being led to believe that Sutter Coast’s CEO would be there to discuss a possible transfer of ownership and downsizing of Crescent City’s hospital.

The meeting was scheduled in order for county supervisors to get more information from the Healthcare District regarding last week’s lawsuit settlement between the district and Sutter Coast Hospital, but Chief of Medical Staff Greg Duncan sent an email to his hundreds of newsletter-subscribers describing the meeting as “urgent” and saying that Sutter Coast CEO Linda Horn would be in attendance. 

Mike Sullivan, chairman of the county board of supervisors, implored the standing room-only crowd to understand that this was a standard “two-by-two,” information-only meeting where no action could be taken, and that Dr. Duncan’s newsletter falsely stated that Sutter Coast CEO Linda Horn was invited to the meeting.

“To have 90 people show up at a two-by-two meeting shows you there’s a tremendous amount of concern out there,” Sullivan told the Triplicate on Friday.

Duncan, who is currently in Guatemala, could not be reached for comment.

“Two-by-two” meetings are a standard way that the Board of Supervisors meets with other agencies in the county, like the National Park Service, local tribes or the school district, to exchange information, Sullivan said.  The meetings intentionally fewer less members than needed for a quorum, so no action can be taken.

“It’s really important just for communication between  groups here,” Sullivan said. “We want to be on the same page as far as goals in the community.”

Sullivan told the crowd that the Board of Supervisors is still opposed to merging the hospital with Sutter’s West Bay facilities (regionalization) and downsizing the hospital to a Critical Access facility, and he asked the public to limit their public comments to “ditto” if they shared this sentiment.

The audience, composed largely of older residents scared by potential changes to local healthcare, used the opportunity to reiterate their concerns about regionalization and Critical Access.

Del Norte County resident Victoria Dickey echoed a common sentiment that her family was drawn to settling here because of services provided at the hospital.

“I have ten years invested here, but I do not want to die here for lack of medical care,” Dickey said at the meeting on Wednesday.

County supervisor Martha McClure said that change is indeed coming to health care, but that the community should seize the opportunity to improve the status quo by working with state and federal legislators and Sutter’s lobbyists to craft laws that provide sufficient Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for rural hospitals.

“The health care act is going to radically change what medicine looks like, so why not add language that will protect rural communities across America,” McClure said. She added that the Board of Supervisors needs to be at the table to effect change in this regard, referring to the board’s recent decision not to participate in a “Strategic Options Study” that will evaluate each and every option for the future of Sutter Coast Hospital.  The study is being conducted by the Camden Group and was commissioned by Sutter Health to the tune of at least $165,000.

Earlier this month, the Crescent City Council voted to appoint Councilwoman Kelly Schellong to the community steering committee, which is intended to inform the Camden Group and keep the study accountable.

“We currently do not have a person on that steering committee. We don’t have anyone with eyes on the ground,” McClure said on Wednesday.  “If there are people that are asking the right questions, it will drive answers to what the community needs.”

Sullivan said that he got a sense on Wednesday that some community members would like a county supervisor to serve on that steering committee, and although an appointment to the committee is not scheduled for next week’s supervisors’ meeting, the option is “not off the table,” Sullivan told the Triplicate on Friday.

When asked if there’s a benefit to having a six-figure study done on the future of Sutter Coast, a unique project for a small, rural hospital, Sullivan said, “I think its the step in the right direction.” 

But if Sutter Coast really wants to mend the broken trust in the community they would release the meeting minutes for the hospital board of directors’ discussion on regionalization and Critical Access, Sullivan told the Triplicate.

“It seems a lot of this would not have reached this climax or frenzy if information was released,” Sullivan said on Wednesday, adding that the community should contact hospital board members. 

During Wednesday’s meeting, Clarke Moore, chairman of the healthcare district, sympathized with Sutter for not releasing certain information.

“It is a private entity; you’re not going to come into my business and tell me how to run my business,” Moore said, adding that he didn’t like that reality even back in 1986. In fact, he left his position as head of the respiratory department at Seaside Hospital as soon as Sutter stepped on the scene.

Moore said that is the reality the community must deal with, and he personally supports the strategic options study. He is serving on the steering committee as an individual — not in his capacity as district chairman.

Healthcare district board member Kevin Caldwell, who was the only hospital board member to vote against merging the hospital in 2011, when he was chief of medical staff, did not have much hope for the study.

“I am convinced that the hospital board is going to regionalize no matter what the Camden Group says or the community says,” Caldwell said on Wednesday.  “All they are doing is giving information to the board. So we can have the most brilliant minds on that committee and they can do a brilliant study, but that information goes to the hospital board and they can vote to regionalize;  you have to be prepared for that.”

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