Sutter Coast Hospital representatives are in negotiations with a healthcare provider to replace EmCare Holdings in its emergency room, according to hospital administrator Carlos Priestly.

Although he couldn’t say yet who the provider is, Priestly told members of the Del Norte Healthcare District board on Tuesday that they have met with the approval of both the hospital board and its medical staff leadership. Attorneys for both parties are in the process of putting together a contract, Priestly said.

“Once we have a signed contract, EmCare staff will be given notice and the new service provider will have 90 days to hire staff, go through an orientation process (and) application for medical staff privileges,” he said. “There’s a series of things that have to happen and then we’ll be good to go.”

Once a contract with the new provider has been agreed to, EmCare, also known as Envision Healthcare, will leave the emergency room within 90 days, Priestly said.

Meanwhile, although Healthcare District Directors Dr. Kevin Caldwell and Dr. Greg Duncan spoke positively about a recent meeting they had with the Sutter Coast Hospital board, a community member shared the details of a not-so-positive trip she made to the hospital’s emergency room about a year ago.

Caldwell and Duncan are members of a Healthcare District subcommittee investigating allegations of misconduct at the hospital.

Elizabeth Hall said she visited the hospital’s emergency room after suffering a fall in her home April 6, 2017. Hall said she had talked with a relative, who’s a nurse, after the fall and was advised to go to the hospital.

Hall said she was seeking an MRI to confirm the injury she suffered, but when she arrived at the hospital she was told there was no access to an MRI machine.

“I was not given a proper examination, which falls under the guidelines of malpractice,” she said. “(The doctor) refused to listen to any of my concerns about the tingling and numbness I was experiencing in my hips and my lower back, which goes down to my toes. I was told to find a general practitioner and I was basically let go from the hospital.”

Hall said she returned to the hospital on April 18, 2017 again to try to get an MRI. She said she told staff that she was allergic to a number of medications and wouldn’t be able to take narcotics. However, she said, both doctors on call refused to believe her injuries existed. One recommended an “invasive and unnecessary medical procedure,” Hall said, and became enraged when she refused.

Hall said she thought she was given her discharge papers only to be informed that she was leaving the hospital against medical advice and was subsequently told to leave.

She said she was eventually diagnosed with a herniated nucleus pulposus in her lower back, commonly known as a herniated disc, as well as an annular tear in the spinal disc in her lower back. Hall said she has been suffering tingling and numbness in her lower back and legs since then.

“I’m not able to work, I am not able to do, really, anything,” she said. “The hospital refuses to take responsibility. No one returns my phone calls. No one bothers to allow me to see supervisors or the members of the board. I go ignored and I am tired of that, I’m tired of every patient who has gone through that hospital system and who has been ignored and has been treated in a similar fashion.”

In response to Hall, Duncan, who had spoken with her before Tuesday’s meeting, said he had spoken to the hospital’s radiology department and was told tele-radiology services were available 24-hours a day. A doctor would also re-read the exam the following day, Duncan said.

Duncan said Hall’s case and two others that have come to his attention are “medical staff issues.” Medical staff is primarily responsible for patient care and if its leadership doesn’t take action on a problem, it would fall to the hospital’s board of directors to decide what to do, Duncan said.

Duncan said he plans to bring the most recent concerns he has received to the attention of the hospital’s chief of medical staff as well as the director of the emergency room.

“Hopefully we can resolve any medical staff issues by going to the appropriate medical staff involved,” Duncan said.

Priestly told Hall that she should have heard back from the hospital regarding her complaints and encouraged her to give him a call.

With regards their meeting with the hospital board, Duncan and Caldwell said they received an email from Sutter Coast Hospital CEO Mitch Hanna on April 20 as well as a letter from hospital board Chairman Ken Hall. Duncan said both Hanna and Hall informed the healthcare district board there are no plans to regionalize the hospital board or seek critical access status “at this time or in the foreseeable future.”

Caldwell said he had hoped to get a definitive statement from the hospital on regionalization and critical access status about a year ago, adding that he wanted it “definitively said” that they are not being considered. He said he hopes the healthcare district board and hospital boards can meet again soon.

“I think the next step would be to say if regionalization is ever on the table, then the Sutter Coast board will come to the community first and explain the reason why regionalization would be necessary,” Caldwell said.

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