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Citing ongoing financial struggles, Mad River Community Hospital has announced that it will suspend its home health services program. Twenty-seven full-time employees will be affected by the suspension, some of whom have already been laid off.
“Rural hospitals throughout California are financially struggling in the aftermath of the pandemic, and Mad River is no different,” Doug Shaw, chief executive officer at Mad River Hospital, said in a prepared statement. “Costs are at an all-time high, while patient volumes have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels and reimbursement rates have failed to keep up with inflation over the last 10 years.”
It’s not just Mad River: Rural hospitals across California are struggling to stay afloat, Shaw added. “Other rural hospitals are being forced to close important service lines, including Hazel Hawkins Hospital in Hollister which closed its home health agency in January.”
Jenna Schulte, a medical social worker for Mad River Community Hospital, was shocked by the sudden announcement, even more so when she was informed she would not receive any severance pay.
“We weren’t offered any severance pay or assistance with health insurance,” Schulte told this Outpost during a phone interview this morning. “It’s been really hard, you know? And they did it without any notice, so there was no time to plan for upcoming appointments or anything. … They gave us a handout about unemployment but, I don’t know, there’s not really any guidance for us.”
Mad River’s home health services program currently serves just under 100 patients, according to the hospital. What will happen to them after the program is suspended?
“I’m worried about our community,” Schulte said. “When you look at how many patients we serve … there will be a huge gap in services for people that are sick and can’t get out of their house. Homebound patients are not going to have visiting nurses and therapists. … I’m sure [Providence St. Joseph Hospital] already has a significant caseload. I’m not sure how they’re going to absorb our patients. It just seems like we’re leaving people hanging that we have served for a long, long time.”
The hospital will continue to provide home health services to existing patients through April. David Neal, who
also identified himself as the chief executive officer for Mad River Hospital, said administrators have spoken to local and regional representatives from Providence about picking up the slack. [Note: Neal serves as the hospital’s chief executive, a position that is distinct from that of Shaw, the chief executive officer.] “I don’t know what their capacity truly is, but they told us they would work to help.”
Eventually, administrators hope to restore home health services “in a re-imagined way” once the economy stabilizes, according to a press release.
How long will it take before the hospital makes a decision on what comes next?
“It’s too early to tell,” Neal told the Outpost this afternoon. “When you suspend [a program], you have a year to kind of decide what to do with it. We are not removing home health services from our license but over the next few months, we’ll evaluate what’s happening with the health care climate and make decisions from there.”
Administrators encouraged affected employees to apply for vacant positions at Mad River Hospital. “We don’t just put them into a new job,” Neal said. “We’ve asked them to look and see what’s available and certainly apply [based] on where their interests are at.”
However, Schulte felt administrators should have done more to support their employees, especially long-term staff.
“I mean, I’ve been there for over a decade, and they’re not even offering to transfer to a different unit or anything,” she said. “Basically, we’ve been let go and we have to try and apply for another job. It just doesn’t seem like they’re approaching it in a more thoughtful way.”
Neal reiterated that the decision “was not taken lightly.”
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Press release from Mad River Community Hospital:
The Board of Mad River Community Hospital voted to accept management’s recommendation to provide for the orderly suspension of home health services effective upon the completion of services to our existing patients (in or about April, 2023). Mad River Home Health Services will begin referring prospective home health patients to health providers within the County.
“The decision to suspend providing home health services was a difficult one, and a decision neither I, our leadership team, nor our Board took lightly” stated Doug Shaw, Mad River’s Chief Executive Officer. “Rural hospitals throughout California are financially struggling in the aftermath of the pandemic, and Mad River is no different. Costs are at an all-time high, while patient volumes have yet to return to prepandemic levels and reimbursement rates have failed to keep up with inflation over the last 10 years. Rural hospitals are struggling to survive in this climate, and many are at risk of closing or have closed, as was the case for Madera Community Hospital which closed its doors in December. Other rural hospitals are being forced to close important service lines, including Hazel Hawkins Hospital in Hollister which closed its home health agency in January.”
Mr. Shaw added, “We are committed to our long-term success and service to our community, but hard decisions, such as the decision to suspend home health services, will be required to better position Mad River in the post-pandemic economic climate. We look forward to providing home health services in a re-imagined way when the economic climate stabilizes, and we will be working diligently with our committed staff to see that this happens.”
The suspension will affect 27 employees, all of whom are encouraged to apply for vacant positions within the hospital or its outpatient departments upon completion of existing patient treatment plans. We thank those dedicated staff and nurses for their service to the community.
Mad River Community Hospital Leadership will be offering presentations in the coming months on the plights of rural medicine and how we can partner to overcome the challenges rural hospitals are facing.
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CLARIFICATION: The headline of this post has been changed to clarify that existing patients will not see an interruption in their home health care.