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Healthy new start for Oxnard hospital

St. John's reopens after treatment for a persistent mold problem. Health officials laud smooth hand-off of patients.

August 25, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard reopened its doors to patients Friday, after closing for 10 days for mold fumigation of the 265-bed facility.

Hospital President T. Michael Murray credited careful planning and full cooperation in the county's healthcare community for the successful transition.

"I've been so impressed, not only with our staff here and our sister hospital," St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo, Murray said, "but all the other hospitals in the area. Everybody worked together so well."

Barry Fisher, administrator of the county's emergency medical services agency, said he also was pleased with the level of cooperation. Daily conference calls were held among St. John's administrators, county healthcare officials and senior staff at the area's seven other hospitals.

"All the hospitals came together and helped each other out," Fisher said. "If we were to have a hospital disappear for whatever reason, we know our system can adapt, make changes and get people the medical attention they need."

Ken Cook, president of Gold Coast Ambulance in Oxnard, said his company delivered its first patient to the newly reopened St. John's shortly after 7 a.m. Friday. He said the company would begin reducing extra staffing that had been assigned to accommodate longer travel times to other medical facilities.

"When you talk about closing the largest hospital in the county, I think it went very smoothly," Cook said. "All the facilities should be commended."

By closing in August, typically a slower month for hospital visits, the burden of shifting St. John's patients to other hospitals was reduced. Murray said only 16 ambulances had to rush emergency patients elsewhere during the closure.

Sheila Murphy, spokeswoman for the county's Health Care Agency, which operates Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura, said healthcare providers were able to learn from St. John's closure. She said they thought of it as a trial run for a disaster, such as an earthquake abruptly shutting down a major local hospital.

During the St. John's closure, Ventura County Medical Center experienced a 10% to 12% increase in emergency room visits, Murphy said. Those cases were handled, in part, by extra staff on loan from the Oxnard hospital, whose other staff members were assigned to medical facilities in Santa Paula and Camarillo.

Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura relied on existing staff members, many of whom deferred vacations or picked up extra shifts, to handle its increased patient load.

Adam Thunell, Community's chief operating officer, said the hospital saw an extra 20 to 25 patients daily during the closure, including emergency room, labor and delivery, and critical care patients.

"It was a great team effort," he said. "Everybody was busy."

St. John's officials said they were confident that the fumigation would finally eradicate a mold problem that has plagued the hospital since it opened in 1992. Murray declined to disclose the cost of fumigation.


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