Sutter Coast Hospital CEO Mitch Hanna on Thursday will recommend another provider to replace EmCare Holdings in staffing its emergency department, according to hospital Administrator Carlos Priestly.

Depending on the hospital board’s action, Hanna will present his recommendation to medical staff leadership next week, Priestly told members of the Del Norte Healthcare District board on Tuesday.

“I’m not at liberty to disclose the specifics, but I want people to be aware we’re taking it quite seriously; we’ve done our due diligence,” Priestly said. “We’ve met with a number of different groups and we’re at a point where perhaps we can take the next step and the next step would be executing a contract with an emergency medicine group; a different group.”

Brought to the attention of the public by Dr. Greg Duncan shortly after he was sworn in on the Healthcare District Board in 2016, elected officials, including the Healthcare District, Crescent City Council, Del Norte County Board of Supervisors and Curry County Commissioners as well as Assemblyman Jim Wood have voiced concerns about EmCare, also known as Envision Healthcare, which operates out of network for most local insurers.

The healthcare district board, county supervisors and the Crescent City Council drafted a joint resolution urging the hospital to renegotiate its contract with EmCare.

Unsatisfied with Hanna’s response to the resolution, Supervisor Chris Howard in December sent a letter to Wood’s office. Wood’s office sent a letter to Del Norte County, stating the assemblyman intends to bring both parties together for a discussion, although an exact timeframe had not been determined.

On Tuesday, Priestly said that even after the hospital has contracted with another emergency room provider, it wouldn’t part with EmCare immediately.

“We have a contract where we need to give them a 90-day notice,” he said. “Secondly, every one of the medical groups we’ve spoken to — we’ve had four really serious conversations, (but) we’ve spoken with a lot more than four — they’ve all said it would take them about 90 days to ramp up.”

Priestly noted that at the healthcare district board’s meetings in February and January he reported on how busy the hospital has gotten. He said there were times when the hospital had exceeded its license for 49 beds, prompting Duncan and his colleague on the healthcare district board Dwayne Reichlin to recall the days when Sutter Health was working toward a Critical Access designation for Sutter Coast Hospital.

“There was another larger group that favored taking 24 beds out of service, putting a limit on the number of days a patient could stay and increasing charges on MediCare patients under the Critical Access program,” Duncan said. “The Critical Access application was subsequently rescinded by Sutter Health.”

Critical Access is a federal designation for rural hospitals that allows the facilities to receive considerably higher, cost-based reimbursements for Medicare patients, the Triplicate reported in March 2016. Such hospitals are required to have a maximum of 25 inpatient beds and a patient stay must be an average of 96 hours annually.

The hospital’s application for Critical Access status expired in 2016, the Triplicate reported. At the time, Hanna told the Triplicate there are no plans to reapply.

Duncan, who will meet with the hospital board today along with his colleague Dr. Kevin Caldwell, said when Critical Access was a possibility for Sutter Coast, a minority of people wanted the hospital to expand services so patients were treated in their communities. That group was especially hoping for dialysis services and an infusion center, Duncan said.

“Now we’re seeing that become a reality,” he told Priestly. “This is what I think the community wants to hear is the hospital is committed to expansion of services and the Critical Access days, I think, are behind us. I hope that’s a safe statement.”

Duncan added that he hopes to hear that reassurance from Sutter Health President and CEO Sarah Krevans.

Priestly remarked that the only time he hears the term Critical Access is when he attends healthcare district meetings. He said about three to four years ago, the hospital was transferring 65 patients a month to other facilities, however in the last two months the number of transfers have been in the low 30s.

“The other aspect that’s made it pretty daunting is that the times when we pick up the phone to call to transfer a patient, not only is Sutter Coast busy, but other institutions are busy as well,” Priestly said. “We’ve had patients who should have been transferred to other institutions. They’ve had to wait in our ER because there was not a bed available in the discipline they needed in Northern California.”

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