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Hospital recommends service cuts: No more babies to be born in Sonoma?

The Sonoma Valley Hospital District board of directors next week will consider a series of key budgetary moves, including staff recommendations to cut obstetrics and skilled nursing and transfer its home health care services to another local nonprofit.

The proposed cuts are described by hospital CEO Kelly Mather as a crucial part of ongoing hospital efforts to reduce costs.

A public meeting to consider the cuts is set for Wednesday, July 25, at 6 p.m. in the basement conference room at Sonoma Valley Hospital, 347 Andrieux St.

Under the banner of “Reinventing Sonoma Valley Hospital,” Mather sent a community message on July 16 to address the rumors that had been circulating within the district about potential service cuts at the hospital.

Mather explained that as part of the hospital administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, her team is recommending closing two high-profile services - obstetrics and skilled nursing - and transferring home health care to another local nonprofit.

She cited broad healthcare trends among the reasons for the recommendations.

“Small hospitals are quickly realizing they must reinvent themselves to have a role in this rapidly changing system,” she said. “A community hospital can no longer try to be all things to all people but must refocus on essential community needs.”

Mather outlined a plan for Sonoma Valley Hospital to focus on emergency services and supporting services such as surgery, intensive care, pharmacy, diagnostic imaging and laboratory.

“To keep our commitment to our community, SVH is focusing on how we can maintain the most important and highest utilized service - our emergency department,” she said.

To keep the ER viable in what she describes as an increasingly challenging fiscal environment, Mather is proposing that the hospital streamline the services it offers and focus entirely on those “that contribute to the Hospital’s financial sustainability.”

“The reality is that a small hospital today cannot continue to provide services that lose money, no matter how good those services are,” she wrote in the memo.

She went on to say that the three services in question “are no longer sustainable despite our best efforts.”

Mather says that the hospital’s average of two births per week at the hospital is not financially sustainable, and noted that births at the hospital are down almost 50 percent from 2010. She said that the hospital will incur a loss of more than a half-million dollars for obstetrics for the fiscal year ending June 2018.

Mather says that the hospital is in discussions to seamlessly transfer its home health care service to a large, local nonprofit.

“No hospital wants to be in the position of closing services, especially high-quality services like these, but the financial realities of healthcare today are forcing hard decisions,” said Mather.

In anticipation of critics who question why the hospital’s recently-passed higher parcel tax isn’t covering these shortfalls, Mather says that the tax is not intended by itself to make the hospital financially sustainable.

Mather listed the Sonoma Valley Hospital services that do turn a profit and among them are surgery, outpatient rehabilitation, outpatient diagnostics and special procedures such as wound care.

She also stated that working closely with the University of California San Francisco, with which SVH recently became an official affiliate, the hospital expects to continue to bring additional specialty services to Sonoma, including through telemedicine.

The proposed cuts will be voted on by the Health Care District Board at a meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 25, at SVH at 347 Andrieux St.

Contact Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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