Talk toughens on status of Santa Paula Memorial Hospital

March 19, 2004
Santa Paula City Council

The City Council will revive takeover actions to gain control of shuttered Santa Paula Memorial Hospital or create a special district if a deal is not struck for the hospital’s reopening by May 3.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesThe City Council will revive takeover actions to gain control of shuttered Santa Paula Memorial Hospital or create a special district if a deal is not struck for the hospital’s reopening by May 3.The council discussed the issue at the March 15 meeting, the deadline for the 45 days that Mayor Gabino Aguirre had imposed for action by the hospital board of directors and Ventura County.City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that although the hospital and the county have been meeting and “informally” exchanging information, “both sides indicate that progress continues to be made and hope to be back at the table,” for negotiations soon.The SPMH Creditors Committee, representing about $8 million in unsecured debt, contacted Bobkiewicz and City Attorney Karl Berger to say they are “very concerned about the pace of these discussions.”Creditors recognize the council as a possible catalyst to the negotiations and asked if the city would continue to act as mediator, Bobkiewicz noted.Councilman Ray Luna asked about the “sense of urgency and responsibility. . .” regarding hospital negotiations.Residents of the river valley are without a hospital meaning a 20-minute ambulance ride to Ventura, said Bobkiewicz, who recently had to transport his visiting grandfather who fell and received a head injury.“If both sides don’t feel a sense of urgency they should,” and perhaps prodding is needed to bring an agreement about, said Bobkiewicz.Luna noted that Santa Paula has a large population of elderly, including veterans, who “could die on the way,” to a Ventura area hospital.“I believe we need to cooperate as fully as possible with the creditors’ committee,” and discussions should continue between the committee’s attorney and Berger.
Aguirre noted that SPMH, which closed its doors to medical services on Dec. 19 and within days declared Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy, is one of the few such community built and owned in the state.The hospital had “gone into the hole to the tune of $200,000 to $300,000 a month,” after its reserve was spent.A river valley Ad Hoc Committee worked with the SPMH board “to try to provide some guidance and leadership so they would move forward,” with the committee’s support. When the county entered into negotiations with SPMH directors, the committee “stepped back to let that process happen . . .” but after “eight or nine months,” enough time to broker a deal, nothing has happened.Although Bobkiewicz reported that talks between SPMH and the county has seen some progress, “we’re still without a hospital. . .and the necessity for hospital services gets even more critical.”The creditors have gained power through the hospital bankruptcy, Aguirre noted, and “my fear is as we wait longer and longer the creditors will go to the judge” forcing the sale of hospital property to satisfy the debts.Aguirre said the city must investigate a hospital district or joint power agreement for the river valley to ensure health services in the future.“I too am really tried about what seems to be the two parties dragging their feet,” said Councilman John Procter.What is particularly troubling is “the lack of public disclosure. . .it makes us really nervous, it’s not like we’re discussing the plan with different avenues and options,” for health care.Staff should prepare documents regarding longtime planning for the hospital, said Aguirre.“I want to give staff latitude,” for a resolution or legal venue to “feel free to pursue,” without waiting for council approval, said Procter.

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