By Roger Gitlin

I share my ambivalence about Sutter Coast Hospital. On one hand, I owe the fine doctors and nurses at Sutter my life. On the other hand I recall all too well five years ago, the Sutter Hospital Board of Directors voted to close half of its acute care beds, restrict patient length of stay and triple prices on Medicare patients. Our community came together and justifiably raised their voices of opposition to these changes.

Last year, I experienced a great deal of popping and cracking in my neck. Chalking it up as unimportant, I neglected to have my spine and upper neck closely examined; I dismissed the noises to the aging process. Bad choice. Upon my return from a March trip to China, I called my physician and we set up an appointment at Sutter Coast for an MRI and CAT scan.

The red flag on my good health was raised. Thanks to radiologist Dr. Helmuth Vollger and emergency room Dr. Byong Pak, I was rushed via air ambulance to UC San Francisco, in April. My C1 and C2 at the base of my spinal cord had collapsed. I required an emergency spinal fusion which I promptly received by neurosurgeon Dr. Aaron Clark of UCSF.

I was advised that procedure saved my life. I also realize there’s a not so small group of individuals in Del Norte County who’ve not received the kind of care and attention at Sutter and have justifiably raised their voices of concern that Sutter Coast Hospital has a lot of addressing to do in providing the kind of care to which I so glowingly expressed.

Though I so admire and thank the medical providers at Sutter Coast Hospital, I strongly suggest there needs to be change on the local Sutter Coast Board of Directors. No disrespect intended, but two members of the current board no longer reside in Del Norte County: Scott Feller has moved to the Centennial State and Dr. Thomas Polidor has relocated his practice to Sacramento. Sutter Health also added two of its executives to the hospital board, CEO Mitch Hanna and Sutter Health executive Grant Davies. Sutter Coast needs more local professionals on its board.

I recommend Dr. Gregory Duncan and Dr. Kevin Caldwell current healthcare district members, be appointed to the Sutter Coast Hospital Board of Directors. Duncan and Caldwell have been this community’s driving force in stopping the hospital intent to regionalize (moving hospital ownership to the Bay Area) and changing the acute care status to critical access (reducing the 49 bed hospital to 25 beds).

Thanks to Duncan and Caldwell and several others, both of those actions were stopped. The current Sutter board drinks from its own Kool-Aid trough. Votes are held behind closed doors and decisions made are consistently unanimous and the attempts to address system failures fall on deaf ears. Both the city council and board of supervisors have repeatedly asked to see financial records and the Sutter board has failed to acknowledge this request.

There is no public input on decisions made by this board which affect your health. Transparency needs to brought into the decision-making process of this tax-exempt, not-for-profit public charity. Is it fair this $45 million hospital pays no property taxes and pays only modest taxes on its clinic and gift shop?

Sutter is the very same hospital, which approved out-of-network costs on its emergency room, which caused great hardship on those needing immediate care. The hospital rescinded the practice after the healthcare district exposed this flaw of out-of-network billing.

I believe healthcare would dramatically improve in Del Norte County with the addition of folks like Duncan and Caldwell. I call on the Sutter Coast Hospital to make changes on its board effective in 2019. Such a move would be a welcome first step in improving healthcare delivered in Del Norte County.

Roger Gitlin is a Del Norte County supervisor.