The fiscally ailing Santa Paula Memorial Hospital took a turn for the worse Tuesday when trustees for Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura declined to enter into talks to save the medical center.
Saying they have their own financial obligations to consider, trustees for the Ventura hospital said they could not grant Santa Paula Memorial's request to discuss a potential partnership, said Phil Drescher, chairman of Community Memorial Hospital's board of trustees.
"We declined, but we did so reluctantly," Drescher said after he informed the Santa Paula hospital's attorney of the decision. "We'd like to help keep them going, but we can't at this time."
The 39-bed Santa Paula hospital, which provides the only emergency room in the Santa Clara River Valley, has been fighting off bankruptcy for nearly a year.
Community Memorial's announcement comes a week after the Ventura County public health system withdrew from negotiations, citing Santa Paula Memorial's refusal to release financial documents. In previous negotiations, the county was considering leasing the Santa Paula facility, which would then use the proceeds to pay off its debt.
The Santa Paula City Council two weeks ago asked the state to remove the institution's volunteer board. The request is pending.
Phillip Romney, chairman of the board of trustees for Santa Paula Memorial, could not be reached for comment. Trustee Carol Burhoe and interim Chief Executive Gene Kaberline declined to discuss the matter.
Trustee Rodney Fernandez said the board had discussed alternatives to affiliating with Community Memorial but did not say what they were.
"We do have other plans, and the hospital will do its best to remain open," Fernandez said. "It's up to the community and the doctors and the board to do this in concert. We just have to work on it harder and figure out an alternative."
One idea put forward by Mayor John Procter was to have the hospital pay off its debts of at least $2.5 million by asking voters to agree to a parcel tax or bond measure.
Drescher said Community Memorial is currently dealing with an upcoming multimillion-dollar seismic retrofitting project and a search for a new chief executive.
"We have a number of problems we're dealing with, some of which will take a substantial infusion of capital," Drescher said. "We didn't see, under the current circumstances, how we could help them out."