SONOMA COUNTY: Medical Centers Face Financial Woes
Southwest Community Health Center in the Roseland area is facing a "shaky future" due to a projected $300,000 deficit this year. Officials attribute their troubles to "dispensing medical care to low-income adults who don't have health insurance." Of the 1,000 people visiting the clinic each month, 90% live below the poverty line and 30% lack any form of insurance, including Medi-Cal. The clinic was established "to provide basic care and preventative medicine" and reduce other health system costs such as hospitals and specialists. But it appears that the not-for-profit clinic is subject to the same financial pressures faced by the nation's health industry. Spokesperson Dan Marrin said the clinic may be forced to reduce its hours of operation, curtail expensive treatments and layoff staff members to keep it in operation. Director Bill Hughes resigned during a board meeting Wednesday after members "balked" at his suggested "merger with other clinics and laying off all non-medical staff." Hughes left his position as chief executive at Health Plan of the Redwoods -- the county's second largest HMO -- and a six-figure salary to work at Southwest Community Health Center. Marrin said, "[Hughes'] resignation was ... his way of conveying very forcibly that the administration can be cut but the medical programs can't" (Rose, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 11/9).
Petaluma Health Center has announced a shift in power, with a new, nine-member board of directors expected to "take control" next year. One of the new panel's first duties will be to attain federal certification, which will boost revenues by $710,000 a year. Health officials are hoping this move will alleviate some of the financial troubles the medical center has been facing, including an $850,000 deficit from last year and a possible $500,000 loss this year if federal status is not granted. The center will operate as an independent nonprofit entity. Officials say they are "determined to maintain the policy of treating patients at the clinic, regardless of their ability to pay." Thirty-three percent of the patients are covered by Medi-Cal, while 28% are uninsured and "pay for service on a sliding scale." The new board will be representative of the area's demographics, consisting of "two male and two female Latinos, two male and two female Anglos, and a female African- American," all of whom must live in the south county area. Also, five of the members must be patients at the clinic. The district will retain ownership and continue to oversee employment, but the new board will "assume most day-to-day" responsibilities, including setting and defining services and fees and electing an executive director. Appointments are expected to be announced next month (Kovner, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 11/7).