Thursday, 13 June 2024

Five-county meeting to explore regional health care issues

NORTH COAST – Cutbacks, threatened closures and gaps in care – the health care crisis and its local impacts are galvanizing leaders of five area counties to gather this week for a discussion.

Representatives from Lake, Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano counties will meet at 9 a.m. this Thursday, March 13 at the Napa County Board of Supervisors meeting room, according to the office of Rita Scardaci, Sonoma County's health services director.

Lake County Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Cox said county representatives who have confirmed they will attend include Health Services Director Jim Brown and Supervisor Rob Brown.

In recent months Sutter Lakeside's Critical Access Hospital designation change – which will take the hospital's number of acute care beds from 69 to 25 – and Sutter Health's threatened closure in Santa Rosa have heightened concerns that services will not exist to meet health care needs.

On Tuesday the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that Sutter Health announced it won't close Sutter Santa Rosa, because it was unable to hammer out a deal with Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for service transfer.

That's important news for Lake County, especially since local hospitals – with a current total of 94 beds – already transfer hundreds of patients out-of-county every year for higher-level services at hospitals like Sutter Santa Rosa and St. Helena Hospital.

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Valerie Brown told Lake County News in a recent interview that Sutter Lakeside's access change and other health services questions in the region led officials to decide it was time to sit down together and talk as a group.

Attempts to reach Sutter Health officials for response regarding regional issues was unsuccessful.

Of special concern, said Brown, is how Sutter Health has interacted with the communities it serves.

“Our belief is that even though a hospital may be located in one location, it serves people in a fairly large radius, and it has an impact in other counties when a hospital chooses to close or open,” she said.

These challenges are facing Marin, Sonoma and Solano, said Brown, while at the same time officials in those counties were aware that counties to the north – like Lake – were facing changes in service levels.

A concern for Brown was that Sutter Health didn't mention its plans to pursue the Critical Access Designation in Lake County while it was negotiating with Sonoma County for service changes.

That led to questions about what Lake County's changes would mean to Sonoma and neighboring counties, said Brown.

“Health care is regional, and it has to do with where a person is,” she said.

She added, “I think every region recognizes that there are no boundaries to health care delivery.”

Brown said Sonoma County has put together a health care access committee in order to put together a look at health care and how they can manage it in the future.

It's ideas like those that are expected to be part of Thursday's five-county roundtable.

Here in Lake County, later on Thursday, Sutter Lakeside will hold an information meeting on the Critical Access Designation change from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, 3500 Hill Road East, Lakeport.

Hospital Chief Executive Officer Kelly Mather is scheduled to discuss Sutter Lakeside's decision to seek the designation change and expected impacts on the community, staff and growth plans.

Sutter Lakeside officials have reported the designation change is necessary to help the hospital stop losing money. The Critical Access Designation, which Redbud Community Hospital has held since 2005, gives participating hospitals higher Medicare reimbursements.

Mather also went before the Board of Supervisors Feb. 26 to explain the hospital's potential designation change.

Fire officials have voiced their concern that more transfers could be required when the local bed count drops to 25 when Sutter Lakeside's Critical Access Hospital designation is approved, as Lake County News has reported.

Sutter Lakeside spokesman Mitch Proaps told Lake County News that the hospital's transfers to facilities in Sonoma, Marin or San Francisco counties would not increase because of the Critical Access Hospital designation. Those transfers, he said, are largely because of the need for specialty or higher-level care that Sutter Lakeside doesn't provide.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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