Ventura County, Community Memorial Hospital Enter Truce
Community Memorial Hospital and Ventura County appear to have entered a truce, "quietly" beginning talks to end a seven-year "hospital war" and join together on several issues, the Los Angeles Times reports. Possible areas of collaboration between the two entities include a merger of the private CMH and the public Ventura County Medical Center and seismic retrofitting. The two parties also are discussing the distribution of the county's tobacco settlement, just one month after CMH lost its campaign to pass Measure O, the ballot initiative that would have diverted the money to private hospitals. However, a recently proposed plan to expand the county-run HMO to cover many of the county's uninsured workers has "already created new tensions."
Still, County Chief Administrator Harry Hufford said, "There's a grand opportunity right now for improved relationships and to deliver better health care to the community. I've talked with someone who represents CMH, and we're trying to figure a way to work together. ... I'd love to figure out an end to these hospital wars." Hufford added that most of the county supervisors support "a more rational process" for working with CMH, and newly elected supervisor Steve Bennett said ending tensions between the two groups is one of his top priorities. CMH Executive Director Michael Bakst also said that he hopes the recent talks will "lead to a long term easing of tensions" between the two hospitals. "We are all tired of the hospital war issue. In the aftermath of the election ... we saw an opportunity to sit down and work things out," Bakst said. However, Bakst added that the HMO expansion "could sabotage peace talks" unless it includes private hospitals.
Meanwhile, CMH and Ventura County Medical Center must both undergo costly seismic retrofitting by 2008, a prospect that has led to talks of merging the two facilities. "From a business perspective, it would make sense to do it. ... Maybe the time is right to look at merging the two systems," Bakst said. Previous merger discussions in 1996 and 1998 were unsuccessful, but Hufford said that a compromise might be attainable. "Community has taken these adverse positions, and in some areas that has made them appear to be hostile takeover folks. But in the long term, a lot of people have given a lot of time and money to CMH, and it's an important part of this community" (Kelley, Los Angeles Times, 12/10).
By working together, CMH and Ventura County could help address the problem of the uninsured, a Los Angeles Times editorial says. Noting that the problem of the uninsured is a "serious, chronic condition that has gone untreated for too long," the editorial asserts that the recent proposal by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to expand coverage under the county's HMO is an "idea worth exploring both on humanitarian and financial grounds." However, the editorial notes that the proposal "raises many questions" that could fuel the "ugly hospital war" that has raged for years between CMH and the Ventura County Medical Center. Still, the editorial concludes, "Our working poor deserve health care they can afford. If the county and Community Memorial can set aside their history of acrimony for this purpose, they'll be healing more than themselves" (Los Angeles Times, 12/10).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.