SONOMA: County Hospital Given Deadline By Columbia
"A group of Healdsburg-area residents with national stature in government, economics and health care is driving the effort to rescue Healdsburg General Hospital and reclaim Sonoma County's smallest hospital for the community," the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports. The hospital's owner, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., has given the hospital 90 days to "[f]ind a way to stop [its] financial losses" or be shut down. The North County Hospital Association is using a $15,000 grant from the city to hire the Westport Group, a consulting firm specializing in rural hospitals, to compile a report for the city and the association on the "hospital's financial condition and the community's health care needs." Columbia's 90-day ultimatum allows the association to devise a plan for the corporation to "sell, affiliate with someone else or in some other way shed the hospital's losses." If such options cannot be produced, "Columbia said it would begin the five-month process of shutting down the hospital."
Discussion On Decline
The community association's leader, Dan Rose, noted "a number of abysmal business decisions" that have brought Healdsburg into the red. Among them are inefficient hospital management, a "lack of continuity in leadership, failure to serve the Healdsburg region's large Latino community, unprofitable investments in satellite clinics and ... a 'dismal' record of physician recruitment." Healdsburg's investment in real estate deals with little return and its decision to lease hospital property "to a physicians group for $1 a year" both proved to be poor business decisions. Finally, the Press-Democrat notes that almost half of the patients who could be using Healdsburg for standard procedures "are sent elsewhere by their doctors," a sign of the hospital's inability to attract physicians (Lauer, 4/12).
A New Future
Despite appearances, the Press-Democrat notes that the chances of Healdsburg General being shut down "are slim, according to industry experts." A more likely course would be "some kind of metamorphosis from a full-service hospital to some other kind of medical facility," such as an "emergency-only hospital, an outpatient clinic, a long-term care facility or some combination of uses." Mary MacDonald, of the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, said, "It costs money to shut down a hospital and that's one reason you don't see it happening more frequently" (Lauer, 4/12).