SONOMA COUNTY: Columbia Threatens To Close Palm Drive Hospital
For the second time this year, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. has issued an ultimatum to a community hospital in Sonoma County, saying it will close Palm Drive Hospital Jan. 13 "if a buyer can't be found in the next two months." Earlier this year, Columbia said it would close Healdsburg General Hospital, but a community group, Nuestro General Hospital Inc. was able to purchase the facility (see CHL 11/13). The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that the "announcement came as a shock at Palm Drive, which earlier this year was declared profitable by hospital officials." However, Columbia spokesperson Chris Holden said the hospital lost $208,000 last year and that after repeated attempts to sell the hospital, the company was left with no alternative. "We've exhausted every potential for turning things around here. After negotiations broke down with every potential buyer, we were faced with the alternative of cutting services and staff so drastically that it might affect the safety of patients. We couldn't do that," he said.
Immediately after the announcement, community leaders stated their intention to save the 49-bed, 305-employee facility, emphasizing a need for the community to involve itself in supporting the hospital. Dan Weinberg, director of the ER at Palm Drive, said, "People have to make a commitment to use the facility one way or another, either by choosing a health plan that includes Palm Drive, by using the various programs the hospital offers ... and by urging employers to use the occupational medicine program." Cathy Reynolds, community liaison for Palm Drive, added, "It's a hard lesson, but if the community can take this as a wake-up call, maybe something good can come of it." Officials estimate that Palm Drive would cost close to $6 million -- the estimated amount offered for Healdsburg. The Press Democrat reported that hospital officials were discussing possible ways to mirror the community effort that saved Healdsburg General from closure. Harry Polley, a member of Palm Drive's board of trustees, said, "Whether we can come up with that kind of money, or some kind of deal with a partner who can supply the capital, I don't know. In the long run, it will come down to whether there is enough desire in the community to have a local hospital. I think the support is there" (Lauer, 11/13).