SAN LUIS OBISPO: County Debates Fate Of General Hospital
As San Luis Obispo County readies for Tuesday's vote on the fate of General Hospital, the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune reports that the "tangled maze of emotion, history and politics" assures that the vote "will simply be the beginning of another chapter, not the end of the book." Voters will be deciding on Measure M, which would raise the sales tax by a quarter cent to generate $5 million a year to keep the hospital open -- "for now." The county must come up with the funds to fix the earthquake-damaged facility by 2008. The Telegram-Tribune reports that if voters reject the measure, it "could be seen as a green light for closing the hospital." However, "such a move is expected to be met with litigation from employees and supporters" who want to protect their jobs at the facility. But even if the hospital is allowed to close, the county will have to reroute how its health care is structured, since the hospital is a major component of the safety net.
Time For Change
Earlier this year, before residents gave a "show of support" for the facility, county supervisors had planned "to shift hospital money to a larger countywide network of clinics and hire the other four hospitals in the county to provide hospital and emergency room care." As board chair Mike Ryan explained, "The way things are now, (General Hospital's) basically a money sponge." The county medical society is also opposed to keeping the hospital open. "A large number of specialists feel that there is not sufficient equipment, up-to-date equipment, to provide safe, quality care at the county hospital," said Dr. Charles Maas, president of the society. The county Health Agency also believes the county could better provide care to the poor without the hospital's drain on resources. Susan Zepeda, director of the agency, said the money now being used to fund the outdated hospital -- about $3 million in county funds -- could be used to fund additional clinics. This would provide better access and expanded service hours, cutting down on expensive emergency room care, she said.
Leaner And Meaner
But if Measure M does pass, the Telegram-Tribune reports that county officials must quickly decide what role the facility will take on. The county is already "on a tight timeline to meet state deadlines to have the building renovated or rebuilt by 2008." Some have suggested making the facility leaner and more efficient by drastically scaling down its size. Others have suggested specializing the hospital to fit into a profitable niche. However, niche marketing can by tricky in a competitive market, the Telegram-Tribune reports (Hurly, 10/30).