Hospital Gets Dose of Good News With Bad


Even on its best days, the bad news seems to outweigh the good at High Desert Hospital in Lancaster.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors presented High Desert with a plaque for scoring among the nation’s top 4% in an accreditation exam last month.

Alas, the bad news is that the good news will not keep the board from yanking funding from High Desert by June 30, when the county is scheduled to privatize the hospital in an effort to save money.


“With all the talk of privatization and all the pressure on the staff, in the midst of all that, this is an extraordinary accomplishment by an extraordinary group of people,” Mark Finucane, director of the county Department of Health Services, told the Board of Supervisors.

The high scores also shows how far the hospital has come since 1995, when a state inspection found hospital staff members had mishandled radiation. Also, a county report at the same time ordered the replacement of the hospital’s top administrators due to mismanagement after an investigation found, among other things, that a physician charged with sexual battery had continued to see patients.

In the recent test, High Desert scored 98 out of a possible 100 points during a field evaluation last month by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, a private, not-for-profit group that surveys 16,000 hospitals and other health care facilities in the United States.

When the results of the accreditation are officially confirmed later this year, High Desert will be the first hospital in the county Department of Health Services system to win accreditation with a commendation, Finucane said.

Not bad, High Desert Administrator Mel Grussing said, for a hospital widely reported to be on the brink of collapse two years ago.

“The staff took into their own hands the things they have control over,” Grussing said. “This shows that even in times of difficulty, care can be excellent.”


While Grussing was accompanied to the board meeting by several other hospital managers to accept the plaque and the praises, back at the hospital several of High Desert’s 570 employees could think of only one word for the situation.

“Kind of ironic, huh?” said a hospital physician, who requested anonymity.

“The timing is kind of ‘Wow.’ Ironic,” said Sandy Smith, the hospital’s volunteer coordinator.

The Board of Supervisors voted to privatize the isolated 36-year-old facility in order to shift the county health system from expensive in-hospital patient care to less-expensive outpatient clinic care.

The county is negotiating with Las Vegas-based Altila/RPS health care partnership to take over High Desert’s medical services, including caring for the poor and uninsured.