SEBASTOPOL -- The fate of Palm Drive Hospital could be decided as soon as today, with the health care district set to take up a resolution that, if passed, would amount to a "substantial termination of services" less than a week after declaring "fiscal emergency" and clearing the way for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.Coverage of Palm Drive Hospital financial challengesNurses union, advocates protest potential Palm Drive closure
April 5, 2014Financial stress at Palm Drive detailed
April 4, 2014District declares Palm Drive ‘fiscal emergency’
April 1, 2014District to consider Palm Drive’s future
April 1, 2014
See all coverage of Palm Drive.
Taken together, the resolution being considered and the move to Chapter 9 -- barely four years after emerging from the same scenario -- would effectively shutter the long struggling facility.
The district is set to meet tonight and take up the measure after delaying it last week, following hours of impassioned pleas from residents and employees who said they wanted more time to process the news and come up with a possible solution. The district could close the acute care and emergency departments as soon as April 28.
"We're out of money, and we can't pay our vendors on a regular basis," said hospital Chief Executive Officer Tom Harlan at the meeting. He said the realization of insolvency was "alarming and very depressing."
"The conclusion was there is no sustainable path for Palm Drive," he said.
The hospital has been contending with operating losses of $4 million to $5 million a year, and the institution owes vendors about $6 million, according to David Cox, interim chief financial officer and also CFO for Marin General Hospital. In January alone, the hospital reported a loss of $356,200, while through the fiscal year, ending July 1, it has lost more than $1.2 million.[poll id="114"]
Inpatient volume has seen a sharp decline, dropping from roughly 12 patients per day to as low as seven a day. That may seem like a small change in patient headcounts, but it represents a more than 30 percent decline in volume, Mr. Harlan said.
"We have more nurses on staff than patients," he said.
While the vote to eliminate services was delayed, board members said at the meeting that they were very likely delaying the inevitable.
"If this resolution is not passed tonight, it will be passed on Monday," said board Secretary Sandra Bodley. "It's not going to change the outcome. This is a wrenching decision, but it's real."
"We won't last another month," board Vice President Marsha Sue Lustig said.
The hospital is licensed for 37 beds but has been staffed for only 12 beds to help offset staffing costs.
Yet the institution has long been beset by financial woes, exacerbated recently by a confluence of factors. Among them are plummeting patient volumes, reduced reimbursement rates from Medicare under health care reform and a disproportionate share of Medicare and Medi-Cal patients versus privately insured patients. Reimbursement rates under those programs are far lower than those in commercial insurance plans.
Mr. Harlan and board members repeatedly told the audience at last week's meeting that, in addition to the issues facing all small hospitals, Sebastopol and Palm Drive are a mere eight miles from Santa Rosa, where three major health systems operate sophisticated hospitals. As such, much of the discussion – and the impetus behind the fiscal emergency declaration and drawing down services – centered on whether Sebastopol and west Sonoma County can continue to support the hospital as it suffers from ongoing losses and dwindling patient volumes.