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Financially Strapped Santa Paula Hospital Halts ICU Services

Times Staff Writer

On the brink of bankruptcy, Santa Paula Memorial Hospital shut down its intensive care unit Wednesday and will suspend all medical and emergency room services by Dec. 19 because of inadequate staffing, officials said.

The hospital’s board voted unanimously Tuesday night to take the action, as Ventura County officials continued to debate whether to move forward with a rescue plan for the tiny medical center. The board’s action comes two weeks after it announced that the hospital would stop delivering babies indefinitely, beginning this weekend.

“It’s not a good sign and it will probably lead to the hospital phasing out our clinical services,” Karin Lyders, the hospital’s nursing director, said Wednesday of the board’s latest move. “We’re taking everything day by day, and we’ll continue as long as we feel we can give the patients we receive good care and they’re not in critical condition.”

Beginning Dec. 19 and possibly sooner, all medical services, including surgeries and emergency room service, will be suspended, Lyders said. In the interim, emergency room service will be reduced to “standby” status, meaning all but the most traumatic cases will be diverted to hospitals 20 miles away in Ventura, she said.

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Lyders said she would consult with officials from the state Department of Health Services today to determine if the hospital could maintain its license while it struggled to regain its financial footing through some type of partnership deal.

In response to the hospital’s action, Supervisor Kathy Long, who represents the Santa Clara River Valley, said she had asked the county’s medical director and personnel from the emergency services agency to visit the hospital today to assess what needed to be done to keep its emergency room open.

She also negotiated with the county’s ambulance provider to add another emergency vehicle to serve the valley of 50,000 residents and arranged for the county’s medical mobile unit to be stationed in Santa Paula to respond to emergencies.

“We will continue to try to do whatever we can to have an emergency room operating there in some capacity,” Long said.

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At issue is the hospital’s debt of at least $7 million. Six months of talks about a possible merger with the county’s public health system stalled recently over concerns of financial risk and liability to the county.

Hospital trustees are waiting to learn if the county Board of Supervisors, which met in closed session this week to discuss Santa Paula Memorial’s predicament, is willing to resume negotiations. Supervisors are expected to make a decision Tuesday.


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