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City Looks to a Rescue Plan for Hospital

Santa Paula officials will meet today in hopes of finding a way to keep the facility, which has not turned a profit since '88, operating.

May 29, 2003|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

The Santa Paula City Council will hold an emergency closed-door meeting today to devise a plan to keep the financially troubled Santa Paula Memorial Hospital afloat.

Doctors, patients and community members are so worried about the institution's financial situation that they have contacted council members in recent days to say they feared the hospital would close before a deal could be struck to merge with Ventura County's public hospital system.

Some of the callers told council members the hospital did not have enough toilet paper and paper towels for employees and that staff members had to borrow medicine from other health care centers, Councilwoman Mary Ann Krause said.

"I would say they are legitimate complaints from community members who use the hospital, from staff and from doctors who refer patients to the hospital," Krause said Wednesday. "We've heard these complaints on and off since January but they escalated about 10 days ago."

She said there was no particular event that led to the sense of urgency but "the community is concerned somehow that the opportunity [to merge] might be lost if the hospital board didn't act quickly."

Hospital Chief Executive Mark Gregson and trustee Chairman Phil Romney could not be reached for comment

Although the city has no legal jurisdiction over the hospital, Krause said council members have asked the interim city attorney to look into options it could use to intervene, if needed.

The 42-year-old hospital is one of three in California built solely from community donations, but it has not turned a profit since 1988 and is losing $3 million a year. It has the only emergency room within easy access of 50,000 residents in the agricultural Santa Clara Valley.

Hospital trustees voted this month to affiliate with the public health care system but negotiations got underway only about two weeks ago and the process could take four to six months to complete, Krause said.

Because the hospital is governed by a private board, the community and the City Council have not had much access to financial information nor to updates on negotiations, said Krause, chairwoman of an ad hoc committee formed earlier this year to find ways to save the hospital.

"That's a prime piece of information we haven't seen since the ad hoc meetings," she said. "And most of the financial information was from past years' income tax reports so it's not current, day-to-day information. It's hard to make any independent judgment."

Krause said she did not know if the board was doing enough to make the merger become a reality. "I would say a majority of board members are focused on a partnership with the county," she said. "We've used the informal tools and lines of communication and offered up the ad hoc committee as an opportunity for information sharing. But it hasn't provided satisfactory answers to address the issues brought to our attention."

The 39-bed hospital is run by Quorum Health Group, a Tennessee hospital-management firm that receives nearly $500,000 annually from the hospital's estimated $15-million budget.

The council meeting is scheduled for 7 a.m. and will be closed to the public because it involves possible litigation.

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