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"Valley Health to consider closing skilled nursing facility"

Original source:

The Press–Enterprise

10:00 PM PDT on Friday, September 26, 2008

Valley Health System's board of directors will consider closing its 90-bed skilled nursing facility in Hemet at a board meeting Monday to help stem financial losses with occupancy not meeting projections and government reimbursements shrinking.

If the board supports the recommendation of the public hospital district's administrators to shutter Hemet Valley Healthcare Center, the district faces state approval and monitoring of a plan to transfer patients to other facilities, hospital and state officials said.

The facility is on North Weston Place adjacent to Hemet Valley Medical Center's campus. The district also operates Menifee Valley Medical Center in Sun City.

"You have to acknowledge that the Medi-Cal program, the budgetary process, certainly were part of the mix as we looked at this. I think for us it's more of a structural problem. I don't think it is fixable," district Chief Executive Officer Fred Harder said by phone.

The recommendation is in the best interest of the community and the district to focus on providing the "highest quality services for this community at the hospitals," he said.

The skilled nursing facility lost $646,000 in the 2007-08 fiscal year and the losses were expected to increase this fiscal year, Jerri Randrup, the district's vice president for communications and marketing, said by phone. Closing the facility would save an estimated $12.2 million over the next five years.

The district is in bankruptcy court and is expected to file a plan in November to repay creditors over several years. The district earlier this year sold Moreno Valley Community Hospital to pay off bonds, debts and make some capital improvements.

The recommendation does not affect the 21-bed Sage Retreat at Hemet Valley Recovery, which provides chemical dependency treatment services.

The board meets at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the district's Medical Arts Building, 301 N. San Jacinto St. in Hemet.

No Plans to Sell

The skilled nursing facility had 57 patients on Friday and employs 83 health care workers, Randrup said. Patients mostly come from Riverside County. There is no plan to sell the facility.

If the district board decides to close the facility, the state must be notified in writing of the reasons and a "plan for closure" that addresses the transfer of patients to other facilities, Ken August, California Department of Public Health spokesman, said by phone.

Because Medicare and Medi-Cal patients would be affected, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid must also be notified.

If the state approves a closure plan, Randrup estimated the process to find other facilities for patients would take about two months.

San Francisco-based California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform has been involved in supporting legislation protecting long-term care consumers when faced with such situations.

"They can't transfer anybody until they have a suitable place to transfer them to," said Pat McGinnis the nonprofit advocacy group's executive director. The numbers involved make it "much more difficult" to find space in the area, she said. The law also involves ombudsman programs to assist patients.

Randrup said about 60 percent of the patients are on Medi-Cal. Seven facilities in the hospital district accept Medi-Cal recipients, according to the California Advocates Web site. Medi-Cal is the California program that pays for health care for the poor and elderly. Its reimbursement rate to health care providers is among the lowest in the nation.

Administrators met with employees at the facility Friday. "We're going to make every effort to transition people into jobs we have available throughout the health system" Randrup said. The district may host a job fair on site.

Valley Health System took over operation of the 120-bed facility in the mid 1990s.