Madera County residents desperate for alternatives as hospital closes

Friday, December 30, 2022
Madera County residents desperate for alternatives as hospital closes
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Madera County leaders say people will die because Madera Community Hospital is closing, but they're putting stopgaps in place to make the best out of a bad situation.

Madera County leaders say people will die because Madera Community Hospital is closing, but they're putting stopgaps in place to make the best out of a bad situation.

The timeline for closing the hospital has accelerated since Action News first reported the bad news last week and now the ER closes at the end of the day Thursday.

On Thursday, hundreds of people tuned in to see how the county plans to minimize the damage.

The COVID pandemic brought a steady flow of patients to Madera Community Hospital and their staff met the challenges and led the way in innovation to protect patients.

One of its doctors earned honors as a public health champion for implementing monoclonal antibody treatment early on.

"It was significant for the community," said Madera County public health director Sara Bosse. "It was the first hospital in the region to offer that treatment that really diverted individuals who are high risk from hospitalization."

But the pandemic also pushed the hospital's finances over a cliff.

"We were not in a deficit," said Madera Community Hospital board member Deidre da Silva. "We were always paying our bills. We didn't have debt. Then COVID came along."

Hospital expenses exceeded revenue from 2016 to 2020, but not by much.

da Silva says the hospital is now losing $2.5 million every month.

She says the state reimbursed them at the lowest Medi-Cal rate in the state and they had one of the highest Medi-Cal patient populations.

The imbalance led to a bankruptcy filing and a failed sale.

Now, Madera County is about to be one of only two counties in the state without a general hospital.

22 patients remained as of Thursday morning.

And Central California EMS director Dan Lynch is planning how to get Madera County emergency patients to hospitals in surrounding counties.

"If we don't have ambulances available immediately, they're going to be responding from a longer ways away," said Central California EMS Director Dan Lynch. "Which means our firefighters are going to be on scene of some of these calls, waiting for an ambulance, which takes them out of the firefighting business."

Sheriff Tyson Pogue says a shuttered hospital will force law enforcement officers to spend a lot more time on medical calls.

His office also expects more deaths and decreased reporting of domestic violence, child abuse, and sex abuse because some victims will just skip the trip to a distant hospital.

County supervisors made no decisions Thursday, but county administrative officer Jay Varney discussed the idea of what he called a "super ER" to replace the hospital - with expanded emergency services locally and elective medicine elsewhere.

He also mentioned starting a hospital district with taxing powers, which helped Tulare District Hospital get out of a 2017 bankruptcy in less than a year.

Whatever the solution, county residents say it's urgent.

"We need our hospital," said former hospital chaplain Joyce Lane.

Assembly members Jim Patterson and Esmeralda Soria attended the meeting today and they say they're working together to make sure the state helps the get a hospital of some sort reopened as soon as possible.