SONOMA COUNTY -- Capacity continues to top the list of community concerns on Sutter’s smaller, 70-bed hospital plan, according to a summary of comments presented during a Board of Supervisors’ workshop this morning.
District hospital officials announced during the meeting intentions to commence a study on the fiscal impact of the plan on the area’s district-run facilities.
Tuesday’s 9 a.m., two-hour meeting was the supervisors’ third workshop focused on Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa’s revised business plan submitted last November. The proposal includes the construction of a 70-bed hospital with a possible 29-bed expansion, as well as neighboring medical offices and a 28-bed, physician-owned hospital.
The Board of Supervisors will approve or disapprove the plan based on whether it meets Health Care Access Agreement obligations, which mandate Sutter provide certain services through 2016, or 2021 if the new hospital is built.
Today’s meeting was the smallest by far of previous standing-room-only gatherings on the topic. A majority speakers were in favor of the plan, though most were affiliated with Sutter either in construction of the new hospital or as an employee.
Dr. Dick Kirk, chairman ofthe Northern California Health Care Authority that represents the county’s district hospitals, as well as Healdsburg District Hospital Chief Executive Officer Evan Rayner, spoke about concerns similar to those stated in a letter to the board earlier this summer. Mr. Rayner also announced the beginning of a study looking at the fiscal impact of Sutter’s plan on the finances of other Sonoma County hospitals. Dr. Kirk asked the board to introduce a “pay-or-play” kind of system related to indigent care and that a county-wide electronic health records system be implemented.
In addition to the Board of Supervisors’ workshops, Sonoma County Department of Health leaders have also convened nine, two-hour community focus groups that so far have collected more than 500 comments. The department also uploaded a link on the county Web site specifically devoted to the Sutter plan, which has experienced more than 3,000 hits.
Of the comments submitted to the department in focus groups, a majority, or 34 percent, were related to bed capacity. About 27 percent commented on access, and about 15 percent voiced an opinion about the impact on charity care, government programs or the uninsured. Another 15 percent touched on the health care access agreement, and about 9 percent related to other issues including the residency program.
Positive comments commended Sutter for seeking a sustainable business model and looking to projections that show inpatient need declining and preventative care increasing. Others expressed concern for capacity, saying the smaller number of beds will not meet future demand. Related to access, some spoke in favor of the location citing its proximity to Highway 101, while others were concerned public transit would be made more difficult. Others said the smaller hospital would redistribute more uninsured patients to surrounding hospitals and threaten those institutions’ financial vitality.
Sutter Chief Executive Officer Mike Cohill pointed out that about 75 percent of ICU and patients needing surgery beds have an insurer and that the health care access agreement does not require the organization to provide for all indigent patients.