Santa Paula Times

City Councils to hold joint meeting to address hospital finances

January 10, 2003
Santa Paula City Council
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesSanta Paula and Fillmore will hold a joint City Council meeting and include representatives of Piru to address Santa Paula Memorial Hospital’s fiscal crisis.The hospital declared a financial crisis and in late December sent out an appeal to the community for $600,000 to avert possible closure in 90 days.At the Jan. 6th meeting, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz noted that SPMH is an “extremely important resource to the Santa Clara River Valley,” and asked for comment from the SPMH CEO.“I’m not prepared to make a presentation this evening,” said Mark Gregson, but hospital finances are an “extremely serious matter and we’re extremely concerned about the health and well being of hospital and of the community.”“Significant difficulties” due to “not unusual circumstances” impacting the hospital industry have caused the fiscal crisis, he noted, but, “We also have plans and processes in place to move forward and continue to have the hospital available for this community.”Councilwoman Mary Ann Krause asked what future steps are planned, including service changes.It will take 90 days for the elements of a plan to be in place, said Gregson, although some hospital services, including deliveries, have increased 50 percent.Rising operating costs, health insurance payment delays and declining payments, as well as “other working relationships” have also negatively impacted hospital revenues and depleted reserves, he added.Vice Mayor Gabino Aguirre noted other rural hospitals are also suffering setbacks and asked, “how long-standing is the deficit and what action was taken,” at the time it became apparent SPMH was in serious trouble.Gregson explained at length that many rural hospitals are suffering the same problems as SPMH.
“The second part of the question,” said Aguirre, and Gregson said more services are being offered to raise revenues.“I’m extremely concerned with the welfare of the hospital,” and some “less desirable” alternatives must be considered, said Dr. Ernest Carlson, a former SPMH director.Merging with a larger hospital “must be considered” as well as the creation of a hospital district funded by a property tax, which could not be accomplished in the short-term. In the past, Carlson researched creating a hospital district and outlined specifics for the council.Councilman Rick Cook supported a joint meeting to better determine the status of SPMH, noting “until you know where you’re at,” solutions cannot be addressed.Aguirre supported Cook’s added suggestion of a task force to examine SPMH finances, “something that needs to be explained to the community in an understandable way. . .”Cook said the creation of a hospital district could be explored, but Aguirre noted “we don’t have the facts at this time; we need to educate ourselves,” and the community.Krause suggested meeting with Supervisor Kathy Long to discuss the county employee health plan, among other issues.Bobkiewicz said the joint public meeting should occur in late January and include a SPMH presentation and information from the county. “Perhaps we’ll find the appropriate person” to address options utilized by other community hospitals.