East County Medical Group To Close in February
East County Medical Group, East Contra Costa County's main physician group, has announced that it will officially dissolve on Feb. 29 because of the loss of a major contract last month and ongoing financial difficulties, the Contra Costa Times reports (Silber, Contra Costa Times, 1/30). Effective Jan. 1, Woodland Hills-based Health Net's contract with East County, which has 200 physicians, expired, and Health Net planned to switch about 7,900 members -- who account for about 42% of East County patients -- from the group to physicians affiliated with Hill Physicians or John Muir/Mt. Diablo Health Network (California Healthline, 1/6). The Times reports that East County, which has "long suffered from financial difficulties," cannot continue operating without the contract. Currently, it owes at least two months salary to its physicians and $1 million to Sutter Connect, the company that handles its insurance claims. According to Jacqueline DeSouza, an attorney for East County, the group decided not to file for bankruptcy so that it could pay doctors with its remaining funds. DeSouza said it is unclear how much of its liabilities the group will be able to pay.
About one-third of the group's 18,000 patients will have to find new doctors; the group's remaining patients' physicians already are affiliated with Hill or John Muir. In addition, most patients will have to find new specialists, DeSouza said. The dissolution also will affect Sutter Delta Medical Center, which had stronger ties to East County than to Hill and John Muir. Hill and John Muir are expected to "direct at least some patients to other facilities," according to the Times. In addition, Sutter-Delta must hire new doctors to staff its emergency department, which is currently staffed by East County physicians. Sutter Health, the health care network that manages the hospital, has announced that it will expand an existing not-for-profit medical group in Solano County, Sutter Regional Medical Foundation, to absorb East County doctors, allowing them to continue caring for their patients at Sutter Delta (Contra Costa Times, 1/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.