District to consider Palm Drive's future

SEBASTOPOL -- The Palm Drive Healthcare District, which oversees the financially beleaguered Palm Drive Hospital, will hold a meeting tonight to determine whether Sebastopol can continue to support the hospital as it suffers from ongoing losses and dwindling patient volumes.

The district board is set to consider two measures that may or may not save the ailing facility, long beset by financial woes that have been exacerbated by a confluence of factors, among them plummeting patient volumes and a more challenging landscape under health care reform for small district hospitals, officials have said.

One resolution district officials are considering is "pertaining to substantial termination of services and closure of the emergency department." The second is a declaring a "fiscal emergency."

It's not yet clear what would happen if those resolutions are passed, and hospital officials are working to come up with plans that might keep the facility afloat.

"The answer is we're still working with the state Department of Health Services, because we plan to continue be a relevant and sustainable operation for this county in providing health care services," Chief Executive Officer Tom Harlan said.

One of the biggest challenges is keeping open the acute-care portion of the hospital, which is licensed for 37 beds but has been staffed for 12 beds to offset lower-than-hoped-for patient volume, he said. In order to operate an emergency department, a hospital is required by the state to have an acute care operation. Mr. Harlan added that it's increasingly difficult to sustain that portion, given the steep losses the hospital is facing.

The hospital in January reported a loss of $356,200, while through the fiscal year, ending July 1, it has lost more than $1 million.

"Acute inpatient care inside is creating the biggest problem," he said. "Without an inpatient hospital, we can't have an emergency department. That's the primary issue, and the most difficult for us because when we were looking at operating inside, we really modeled everything off of the emergency room, which is huge public benefit."

Sebastopol residents have expressed support for having a local emergency room, but it's difficult with Santa Rosa -- and its three major hospitals -- a mere eight miles away, Mr. Harlan said. Accordingly, closure of the emergency department would be a huge blow to overall hospital operations.

"There are a number of unanswered questions, but we do have a plan that's under development to take care of the wind down," Mr. Harlan said.

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