Assemblyman Jim Wood has been meeting with representatives of Sutter Health and local elected officials to address community concerns regarding Sutter Coast Hospital.

Wood, who represents Del Norte County, intends to bring both parties together for a discussion, although an exact timeframe has not been determined yet, said Cathy Mudge, Woods’ communications director. No legislation is planned currently, but Mudge said depending on the outcome of future meetings and a better understanding of the issues, Wood isn’t ruling it out.

Wood’s investigations into Sutter Health came at the request of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors. On Dec. 12, Board Chair Chris Howard wrote a letter to Wood laying out his colleagues’ concerns about Sutter Coast Hospital and requesting the assemblyman’s help.

According to the letter, the board is concerned about “Sutter’s exorbitant charges as compared to nearby hospitals;” the hospital’s contract with EmCare Holdings, also known as Envision Healthcare, which staffs the emergency room and operates out of network for most local insurers; Sutter’s lack of public disclosure, closed meetings and refusal to release financial and meeting records; and Sutter’s tax-exempt status as a nonprofit operating for public benefit.

At a special meeting of the Del Norte Healthcare District last week, Dr. Greg Duncan, who, along with his colleague Dwayne Reichlin met with county supervisors and Crescent City councilors to discuss healthcare issues, brought up a letter from Liz Snow, Wood’s chief of staff, in response to Howard’s letter.

According to Snow’s letter, Wood’s office has reached out to the California Hospital Association in addition to Sutter Health based on supervisors’ concerns. Snow stated that Wood’s office is considering legislation if the situation doesn’t improve and asked to be kept in the loop if Sutter representatives reach out directly to the Board of Supervisors.

“I felt like this was a positive development, and I wanted to run the idea past the rest of the (Healthcare) Board as to a follow up letter from this board just thanking the assembly member for his interest in our local health care concerns and make ourselves available to coordinate with his staff or him,” Duncan said.

Meanwhile, the Healthcare District talked about including Curry County commissioners in their meetings with the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors and the Crescent City Council on local health issues.

On March 7, the Curry County Commissioners discussed a letter to the Sutter Coast Hospital board of directors demanding they address “extremely high health care service charges” billed to Curry County residents. The letter, authored by Curry County Commissioner Sue Gold, references “outrageous and unwarranted” charges to out-of-network patients with EmCare.

Duncan said the out of network costs disproportionately affect Curry County residents because of California laws prohibiting balance billing.

“Out of network is occurring to both of us. We’re both impacted by that, but the balance billing part does not apply to insurance products that are regulated outside the state of California,” Duncan said. “When they get a $2,200 bill, they pay $2,200.”

Reichlin noted that Curry County residents sit on Sutter Coast Hospital’s board of directors. He said he hopes that by having a Curry elected official work with Del Norte elected officials, they might “apply some pressure to those two Curry County guys.”

Sutter Coast Hospital has evaluated proposals and met with multiple different medical providers who may replace Envision Healthcare in the emergency room, according to Sutter Health spokeswoman Leslie Meiring. If a new provider is chosen, the hospital will have 90 days to terminate the contract with Envision, according to Meiring.

“Any new agreement will ensure that the new emergency care provider is an in-network provider for the health plans that local employers have selected for their employees,” Meiring stated via email Monday.

Envision Healthcare also operates the emergency departments at Curry Medical Center, Mad River Hospital and St. Joseph Health in Eureka with similar charges, Meiring said. She said that Envision Healthcare’s fee structure at Curry Medical Center are similar to the ones at Sutter Coast Hospital. Today, on average, the total charges for an inpatient stay at Sutter Coast Hospital are lower than other Northern California hospitals, Meiring said.

Meiring also noted that Duncan and his colleague on the Healthcare District Board, Dr. Kevin Caldwell, will meet with the Sutter Coast Hospital Board of Directors to “identify and prioritize initiatives to address the health concerns of our community.”

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