BY DR. GREG DUNCAN, CHIEF OF STAFF
First, I write to thank the Board of Supervisors for sending another excellent letter to Sutter Health, reiterating the Supervisors’ ongoing opposition to Sutter Health’s plans to dissolve our local hospital Board of Directors, and transfer ownership and governance of Sutter Coast Hospital to a San Francisco based Board appointed by Sutter Health. The latest letter, addressed to Sutter Health CEO Patrick Fry and Sutter Coast CEO Linda Horn, repeated the Supervisors’ concerns with Critical Access, including the facts that “the program would eliminate 50% of our hospital beds, necessitating hundreds of emergency patient transfers every year to distant hospitals, at the patients’ risk and expense, and without their family or local doctor at the receiving hospital.” The Supervisors also noted that Critical Access would precipitate significant layoffs at Sutter Coast.
Sutter Health’s response to the Supervisors’ latest request for records was blunt. During last week’s hospital Board meeting, Sutter Health Regional President Mike Cohill stated, “we will not be releasing our meeting minutes to the Board of Supervisors or anybody else.”
I understand Sutter Health is not legally obligated to release our hospital meeting minutes, but I certainly agree with several Supervisors who requested Sutter Health release the data and meeting minutes. I fully agree with Supervisor Finigan, who advised in open session, “If you really want an open discussion, then release the data.”
Together with the Board of Supervisors and the Healthcare District, I will continue to work to preserve a full service, locally owned hospital, and prevent downsizing to a Critical Access facility.
Second, we have identified another problem with Critical Access–it will increase costs to patients, and not just costs of transports to distant hospitals. In order to reduce the number of emergency patient transfers imposed by the Critical Access bed limit, Sutter’s consultant wrote the following: “the Hospital [Sutter Coast] can aggressively use observation bed services; however, this may not be sufficient to allow the Hospital to eliminate the transfer of patients outside the community.”
Observation patients are short term patients, who are not counted as part of the patient limit imposed by Critical Access. Observation patients may not be commingled with patients on the inpatient nursing units in Critical Access Hospitals, and are subject to higher charges than standard patients admitted to the hospital. Here is quote taken from the 2012 Sutter Coast Hospital Critical Access study: “The beneficiary may not be aware that observation stays fall under [Medicare] Part B and require coinsurance and possibly other CAH charges.” According to Medicare regulations, “the beneficiary in an observation status will be liable for a coinsurance charge equal to 20% of the CAH’s customary charges for the services.”
One should also know unless the hospital elects to place their observation patients in some of the 25 available hospital beds, they will need to occupy a stretcher. Only 25 hospital type beds are allowed in Critical Access Hospitals. Of course, on busy days like June 28, when there were 36 inpatients plus two observation patients in Sutter Coast Hospital, it will be necessary for many patients to be transferred elsewhere, due to the 25 bed limit. Our patient numbers are typically lowest during the summer months. What will happen during the busier winter months, when respiratory illnesses are common?
The hospital Board also held a discussion on Critical Access during our 8/1/13 meeting, which Sutter Health executive Mike Cohill concluded by stating he believed the Critical Access program would inevitably be implemented here in Crescent City, while acknowledging he had not spoken to Asante or any other potential management firms.