By Deb Murphy
Following an awkward meeting of unanswered questions last Thursday, two members of the Southern Inyo Hospital Board of Directors went into a special ad hoc committee meeting with Kevin Flanigan, chief executive officer for Northern Hospital, County Counsel and Donna McAuley, SIH’s nurse practitioner and, briefly, the new CEO at the struggling hospital.
The board reconvened 90 minutes later and informed close to 50 employees and South County residents of their decision: a call would be made to the California Department of Public Health in San Bernardino asking for help.
“Because of information we weren’t aware of before,” Drew Wickman said. “We’re contacting the State.” Wickman explained that the healthcare district’s property and parcel tax payment went to catch up on back payroll to employees. “There’s no assurance we’ll have the funds for payroll in January.”
Representatives from the CDPH should be on-site by today to begin assessing the situation. The board will hold a meeting Tuesday, December 22 at which time it hopes to know more clearly what the State will do.
Questions asked prior to the ad hoc session exposed the uncertainty of the hospital’s fiscal situation. While the short-term debt hovered around $2.2 million, no one knew the total of long-term debt. While former CEO and Chief Financial Officer Lee Barron provided month-by-month cash flow charts at board meetings, no overall budgetary figures were presented.
“The situation is dire,” said Wickman, his voice cracking. “We’re at a point where our income can’t support what we’re doing. We have to do this before something catastrophic happens. The State has been here (to review the Skilled Nursing Facility) and we’re okay. But will we be okay next week? This is beyond us.”
The tentative plan is to transfer patients in the Skilled Nursing Facility to Bishop Care Center.
Flanigan explained the possible outcomes of the State’s intervention.
“I can’t say with absolute certainty that the hospital will stay open,” he said. If the hospital waited much longer, losing more staff members and falling further behind on fiscal obligations, the State would immediately transporting patients out of the Skilled Nursing Facility.
But, Flanigan said, since SIH had staff on site,”the State may be able to work with you and bring you back from the edge. The Board was obligated to tell the State. You’ve hit the threshold of risk. Things are snowballing at a rapid pace. You’ve run out of ‘if only’s’.”
One big “if only” had been a relationship with Ridgecrest Regional Hospital. CEO Jim Suver was, briefly, at SIH last Friday as an advisor. However, the fact SIH is a public facility and RRH, private, made that relationship untenable.
Flanigan said a mobilization team would be on site quickly. “In essence, the hospital is going into receivership.”
While he described the CDPH process as purely objective, he added that this is California, not Nevada where Tonopah’s hospital, the only facility within “hundreds of miles” was allowed to close down.
“The State can bring resources and do whatever it wants,” Flanigan said. “But the sooner they get here, the more trust and faith they will have in the hospital and the community.”
Dr. Mike Dillion, one of the former emergency room physicians, urged those in attendance to get political. “This opens the window for the community to influence elected officials,” he said.
Using U.S. Hwy. 395 as an example, he explained that Inyo County residents’ tax money did not pay for the highway, that it was an important conduit maintained by state funds.
“Hwy. 395 is a necessity,” he said. “The same as health care. The case needs to be made. This hospital needs to stay open.”