Coastal Voices: Del Norte must explore alternatives to Sutter Health

By Dwayne C. Reichlin February 26, 2014 09:55 am

I recently reviewed the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) that Sutter Coast Hospital is required to do.

It is very informative and I hope members of the community, the current Sutter Coast Hospital local Board members and the members of the recently disbanded Steering Committee who voted for Critical access and Regionalization take a good look at it.  

The report was conducted by a group called Valley Vision and it seemed to be very qualified. The report is required to be done by the nonprofit Sutter Coast Hospital every three years.

The hospital service area (HSA) is determined by zip code. It includes all of Del Norte County and a major portion of Curry County Oregon. The total population served is 42,674, of which 14,051 are located in Curry County.    

Del Norte County is ranked 53rd out of 57 California counties for overall health outcomes, and Curry is ranked 26th out of 33 for counties in Oregon. Life expectancy is around 78.5 years. Statewide, California is 80.4 years and Oregon is 79.5.

There are seven priority health needs including lack of primary, preventative services and transportation. 

After reviewing the Community Health Needs Assessment, I find it hard to believe that Critical Access and regionalization could ever be a consideration for this community.

I was born and raised in Del Norte County, I worked at and managed a local business for 43 years and was involved in the corporate management of that business for more than 30 years competing against other corporations large and small all over the United States and Canada.

I have witnessed many times when outside special interest or large corporations have come to Del Norte County to further their own interest while at the same time dividing our community. We have now let that happen again! 

As a retired recovering corporate executive myself, I have a pretty good idea how the game is played.  For most corporate executives it is not the money they make that motivates them to make the decisions they make, it is the fear of failure on their watch.

In Corporate America in this economic environment the average tenure of the president/chief executive officer in a large Corporation such as Sutter Health is around 7.6 years (CEO Magazine). I have no idea how long the current CEO will be with Sutter Health, but with health care in this country changing like it is, he could be gone at any time and who knows what his replacement would be like.

We do know that the once-great relationship we had with Sutter Health has not gotten better during his tenure. Change is very difficult, but something we deal with every day. We can decide to live with the changes Sutter Health has in store for us or we can take it to the next level and see if others might be able to serve this community better. The decision is ours. 

In my opinion letter-writer Dale Bohling is spot-on when he talks about corporate greed and pricing themselves out of the market to get their census numbers down in order to justify Critical Access (“Corporate greed driving Critical Care downsizing,” Feb. 1).

One would think that if the Camden report states that Sutter Coast will be hemorrhaging money for the next several years that Sutter Health would be jumping at the opportunity to get out of Del Norte County.

What if we allow Sutter Health to do whatever it wants and we find out five years from now that if we would have gone with another group we could have kept our acute care status? What if we find out that after going to Critical Access our acute care backup facility is in the Bay Area and if we would have gone with another group but still had to go to Critical Access we could be sent to the Rogue Valley area?

What a tremendous relief for our relatives and friends to find out they would not have to drive to the Bay Area to be with their loved one. What if we find out that doing business with another provider would not only offer all these things but enable us to keep Sutter Coast Hospital a growth industry like we had prior to Sutter Health’s decision to change things?

In 1985 this community was looking for someone to operate our hospital and we found it. The Sutter Health of 1985 is not the Sutter Health of today. We can find a better deal than Sutter Health is offering if we stay united. I believe the results of the Community Health Needs Assessment tells us that trying to service the needs of 42,000 people in this rural part of the country with a Critical Access hospital makes no sense at all.   

It’s time for our elected leaders and local business owners to take a stand and tell Sutter Health that this community will not allow Sutter Health to go to Critical Access, or to regionalize, until we know for sure if one of the other interested providers might be a better fit for us.

Dwayne C. Reichlin is a member of the Del Norte Healthcare District Board.