Coastal Voices: Even with Critical Access, full-service hospital remains intact

By Linda Horn and Nikki Schwartz January 22, 2014 01:29 pm

The new year brings a change of physician leadership at Sutter Coast Hospital. Dr. Nikki Schwartz was recently elected by the medical staff to serve as chief of staff.

She is a board-certified family physician and works for Sound Inpatient Physicians as the co-medical director of the inpatient hospital medicine group at Sutter Coast Hospital. She has previously served as the hospital’s chair of medicine.

“Several years ago, I came here as a medical student on a rural medicine rotation,” said Schwartz. “I hiked Jed Smith Park and caught steelhead on the Chetco and was in awe of the natural beauty of the area. Then I met the people of the community and I was hooked. I knew I’d come back and these were the people I would serve.

“My family and I made this community our home officially in 2010. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours within the walls of the hospital caring for acutely ill patients. It’s a privilege to care for someone when they are at their sickest.

“I’ve come to think of the hospital as my home away from home and the staff as my extended family. It’s more important than ever to work together as we move forward,  so we can continue to provide the same full spectrum of care for our community, albeit under a different designation.”  

Horn said, “I look forward to partnering with our physicians to ensure our community continues to benefit from great care in a full-service hospital.”

In addition to electing Dr. Schwartz as their new chief of staff, physicians also elected Dr. Warren Rehwaldt as vice-chief of staff and Dr. Sandy Saunders as secretary/treasurer.  Both Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Rehwaldt will also now serve on the Board of Directors for Sutter Coast Hospital.

“We welcome new physician leaders to our local board and look forward to working with them to secure and improve health care in our community,” said Ken Hall, chairman of the SCH Board of Directors.

Sutter Coast Hospital is moving forward with plans to apply for and become a Critical Access Hospital in order to continue providing care for the residents of Del Norte and Curry counties. We plan to communicate with you throughout the process so you feel confident knowing your full-service, acute-care hospital will remain intact.

We will still have an emergency physician in the Emergency Department 24 hours a day/365 days a year. We will still have a hospitalist physician in the hospital 24 hours a day/365 days a year delivering the same level of care that is there today.

Over the past five years, our average daily inpatient bed count has remained under 25. In 2013, our average daily census was 20. So, Critical Access is not taking away half of our beds, it’s right-sizing the hospital to fit the needs of our community. 

We know that patients do better when they are surrounded by their loved ones during times of illness. It’s important to us to keep patients in our community for their medical care.

As a part of the Strategic Options Study, The Camden Group performed a basic needs assessment for physicians. What that study confirmed was that Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation was right on target when it hired an orthopedic surgeon to serve our community because the need for orthopedics was the No. 1 reason for patients being flown out of the Emergency Department.

Physician recruitment will continue to be a focus going forward to meet the needs of our community.

While we learn about the nuances of Critical Access, please rest assured that our mission remains unchanged — to enhance the well-being of people in this community, with compassion and excellence in health care services.

Together, we invite you to engage us as we make changes critical to the survival of our hospital for this generation and the next.

Send questions and notes to our attention at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it We plan to utilize our website, local newsletters and other vehicles to keep you informed and up to date with the latest hospital news.

Dr. Nikki Schwartz is a family physician and medical chief of staff and Linda Horn is interim CEO at Sutter Coast Hospital.