CMH passes on negotiations, directors, city council working to save SPMH

November 21, 2003
Santa Paula News

Community Memorial Hospital has its own problems and is not ready to tackle a partnership with ailing Santa Paula Memorial Hospital, but a city councilwoman said that although disappointed, she is hoping that the news will propel SPMH and VCMC back to the negotiation table.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesCommunity Memorial Hospital has its own problems and is not ready to tackle a partnership with ailing Santa Paula Memorial Hospital, but a city councilwoman said that although disappointed, she is hoping that the news will propel SPMH and VCMC back to the negotiation table.Community Memorial Hospital is dealing with finding a new CEO after it’s longtime administrator, Michael Bakst, resigned in recent months amid a contentious squabble with hospital physicians. A review by a consultant hired by CMH to examine SPMH’s financial records was followed by CMH’s directors’ unanimous vote not to pursue a deal.The news from CMH was coupled with a layoff at the “Hospital on the Hill” where seven employees, including several with decades of service, were abruptly let go on Tuesday.Santa Paula City Councilwoman Mary Ann Krause said that CMH declined to enter negotiations with cash-strapped SPMH was not unexpected: “I’m very disappointed that CMH decided not to pursue an affiliation, but I’m not surprised.”Krause added that she hopes “the efforts that the council is making at this time will help SPMH and the county get back together to consider an affiliation.”The decision came a week after the county Board of Supervisors met in a closed session and decided to withdraw from negotiations with SPMH, citing risk to taxpayer funds – SPMH is reportedly $7 million in debt - and a lack of full financial disclosure, the latter denied by SPMH representatives.The Santa Paula City Council has asked the state Attorney General to step in and remove the SPMH board or permission to pursue such an action on their own.Krause said the council would continue to meet with SPMH and the county to try to craft a rescue plan to keep the community hospital open. The council will also discuss the issue in a closed session at Monday’s meeting.Only one of the three hospitals in the state built entirely with community donations, SPMH opened in 1961 and serves the almost 50,000 residents of the Santa Clara River Valley and has the only emergency room between Valencia and Ventura.City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said at the Nov. 17th council meeting that the council feels “it is important to be as helpful as we can to bring SPMH back to the table with the county or any other interested party.”
An initial meeting between select council and SPMH board members was “a very good meeting,” and Fillmore is being approached to appoint two members for future meetings with SPMH and the county.“We’re committed to help keep the hospital open,” said Bobkiewicz.Fillmore City Councilwoman Cecilia Cuevas agreed and during public comment asked that the hospital Ad Hoc Committee – formed in the aftermath of the December 2002 announcement that the hospital was on the brink of closure – be reactivated immediately to “discuss a game plan.”Talk of possible bankruptcy and the failed talks with the county have led to deepened concern that the hospital might close and hamper access to emergency health care for those in Fillmore and Piru, noted Cuevas.SPMH Chairman Phil Romney said Thursday that the board is in the “process of gathering more information and evaluating what our options are,” that will be reviewed at a meeting on Monday.Directors have adopted an 18-month work out plan and held a detailed discussion during a lengthy meeting Wednesday, he noted.The board had “in the back of its mind that although not in the plan,” it would have been a “parallel activity with an affiliation. We’re continuing to scrutinize that, not only evaluate the plan itself but additional options,” including those that surfaced at Wednesday’s meeting that “we’re pursuing as we speak.”Going back to the table with the county remains an option, Romney said.“The county left the door open and I felt as a member of the negotiation team the discussions are far from concluded,” although Romney noted that he was “surprised that the county walked away from the table. There were many questions we posed to the county that were simply unanswered. I felt the discussions were far from done and there was a great deal more to talk about.”SPMH has also retained consultants that deal with distressed hospitals. “We’re gotten a lot of advice and are taking it,” said Romney.



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