Directors with the Del Norte Healthcare District were at odds with Sutter Coast Hospital representatives Tuesday over a proposal to work together to recruit a psychiatrist to the area.

Though the issue was not on the healthcare district’s agenda, its directors spent more than 10 minutes toward the end of the meeting discussing a last-minute letter it received from Sutter Coast Hospital Chairman Ken Hall about taking part in a three-way collaboration to enhance mental health services in Del Norte County.

Rather than indicating that any member of the healthcare district board would take part in such a collaboration — described by Ellie Popadic, the hospital’s director of ancillary services and business development, as a working group — healthcare district Chairman Dr. Greg Duncan encouraged Sutter Coast Hospital representatives to bring their proposal to the district’s Dec. 18 meeting.

“What we had discussed and agreed upon as a board at the last meeting is we are very much looking forward to hearing your proposal and we wish to do so in an open public forum like this one,” Duncan said. “We think that’s the best way especially if there is a potential that you’re going to ask for public monies.”

Popadic and Sutter Coast Hospital board member David Gibbs first approached the healthcare district with a proposal for a collaboration between the two entities and the Del Norte County Mental Health Branch in September. At its Sept. 25 meeting, healthcare district board directors indicated they needed direct communication with the Sutter Coast Hospital board to take part in an effort to recruit a psychiatrist to Del Norte County.

On Tuesday, Duncan encouraged Gibbs, Popadic, Hall and hospital board member Ron Sandler to elaborate on any proposal the hospital has come up with in terms of bringing a psychiatrist to the area, noting that the healthcare district has yet to see specifics.

Gibbs stated that the vagueness of Hall’s most recent invitation to the healthcare district is “by design.”

“We felt that the three parties involved would best come up with a plan rather than the hospital trying to do so unilaterally,” Gibbs said. “We thought the best plan would come from a collection of ideas from you folks and the county mental health folks and the hospital. That was our design rather than have a public meeting.”

According to Duncan, the topic of mental health came up at a recent meeting of hospital medical staff and stated that the greatest need, based on his interviews with emergency room staff and with public health staff, is a crisis stabilization unit. However, according to Duncan, Popadic stated the county didn’t have enough money to fund a nurse that would oversee the unit.

Duncan’s colleague on the healthcare district board, Dr. Kevin Caldwell, said during the discussion about a collaboration with the county and hospital on mental health it’s been noted that there were many community forums about the issue.

“I think the community knows what it wants,” Caldwell said. “We need more psychiatrists, more telemedicine. It would be great if Open Door, Sutter Coast and the county would all get together and expand mental health services I don’t think there’s any question about that. I think it’s OK for you guys to just go do that.”

Caldwell also stated that the community needs more explanation from the hospital on the fate of the crisis stabilization unit.

“This is a huge blow,” he said. “That was in the works for two years and for you to just end it, saying, well the county couldn’t afford it. I think the community needs more explanation than that.”

Popadic countered by asking if the healthcare district spoke with county health representatives “because Sutter Coast didn’t just end” the crisis stabilization unit.

“It’s a county service and they did not have the funds to support it sustainably long term,” Popadic said, encouraging the healthcare district to speak with the county. “It is something that we would have liked to see happen, but there (are) some challenges around it. But to think that Sutter just ended it, I think, would be a misstatement to be honest.”

Popadic said the hospital was looking to schedule an initial meeting that would include the county Mental Health Branch and were hoping members of the healthcare district would be available.

“I’m hearing nobody will be able to or would be willing to attend on one of these dates,” she said.

Sandler encouraged the healthcare district to take part in the collaboration, stating that it’s a change for the three entities to sit down and come up with ideas on what makes mental health better.

“It doesn’t need to happen at once, but that can all be worked together and brought back to this group once the ideas have kind of been filtered out,” he said. “I’d love to see us all working together for a great cause. Too many people at the table at one time, you get some distractions.”

Duncan noted the proposed meetings are during the week in the middle of the day and said hospital representatives were welcome to interact with the healthcare district at its regular monthly meetings. When Popadic asked if the healthcare district wasn’t interested in participating in a collaboration with the county, Duncan said he is interested, but he wants to participate in the open. He said he has a busy medical practice, in addition to being chair of the healthcare district board, and indicated several times that he’d like to see a concrete proposal from the hospital on recruiting a psychiatrist.

Long-time healthcare district board member Terry McNamara, noting that the November meeting would be his final meeting, said the healthcare district should take part in the collaboration and encouraged Duncan to put the issue on the agenda for the Dec. 18 meeting.

“We need a seat at the table,” he said.

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