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Hospital forms skilled-nursing task force to study cuts

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The Sonoma Valley Hospital board has launched a task force to study whether to close the hospital’s skilled nursing facility – a cost-cutting proposal that, like the board’s recent decision to close the obstetrics department, has drawn criticism from residents.

The board unanimously voted last week to approve the eight-member task force to find ways to improve the facility’s finances or recommend closure. The task force will hold at least one public study session, and will give an interim report at the Oct. 4 board meeting.

“As a board we understand how serious this decision is and we look forward to hearing from the community and the task force,” Joshua Rymer, the chairman of the board, said.

“The formation of (the task force) is a very good process decision to give different stakeholders the opportunity to share their points of view,” said board member Bill Boerum.

Jane Hirsch, also a member of the hospital board, will chair the task force. Leslie Lovejoy, the hospital’s director of case management, who has co-taught classes at the hospital’s Wellness University with Hospital Chief Executive Kelly Mather, is on the task force. Sabrina Kidd, who was hired in July by Mather and the hospital board as the hospital’s chief medical officer, is also on the task force.

When Kidd was hired, Mather said, “I’m especially pleased because we have a strong vision for the future of the hospital and I believe Dr. Kidd will be invaluable in helping us realize that vision in the coming years.”

Melissa Evans, the director of the skilled nursing facility, is also on the task force, as is Susan Porth, a member of the hospital’s finance committee. Dr. David Streeter, a dedicated in-patient physician who works exclusively at Sonoma Valley Hospital and refers hospital patients to the skilled nursing facility, and two community members, Susan Idell and Maggie Haywood, round out the task force roster.

Idell sits on the hospital’s quality committee and Haywood is a community member.

The skilled nursing facility has 27 beds and provides round-the-clock medical care by RNs, with 24-hour access to two onsite physicians for patients who no longer require acute care services but aren’t ready to return to independent living. There is a hospice program, physical and occupational therapy, disease management and support groups.

The facility was awarded a Silver Commitment to Quality award in 2014 for its dedication to improving the lives of seniors and individuals with disabilities through improved quality care.

“This is a service line which is of great interest and concern to the public, because we do have a senior community which involves the seniors and their caregivers,” Boerum said.

“The parcel tax barely passed last year after failing the first time, and a lot of people read into that, ‘OK, we’re going to be paying increased taxes,’ and the impression was that things were going to stay the way they were,” continued Boerum, regarding both the skilled nursing facility and the obstetrics department continuing to operate. “The administration feels there are compelling financial reasons to eliminate service lines, but the public doesn’t feel that way.”

Anita Torres of Sonoma is a member of the public who takes issue with the proposal.

“I am an in-home care provider for the elderly in their homes and several of my clients come down here to the skilled nursing facility,” Torres said.

“It will be very inconvenient for seniors in Sonoma if the skilled nursing facility is closed down. Some of the elderly are frail, they have dementia, they can’t walk or talk very well to voice their concerns,” Torres said.

The home health care workers said the seniors are familiar with the staff at the senior nursing facility and have established relationships with them. “When their routine is changed, they can become agitated. It makes it harder for them and their families.”

Also, Torres said, “If I have to go out of town to take them to and from the hospital that’s not going to be something I get reimbursed for. I only get paid for the hours I work in their home, so if you close down skilled nursing it’s going to affect my job.”

Closing the obstetrics department and cutting the skilled nursing facility are two of three key budgetary moves described by Kelly Mather, the hospital’s chief executive, as a critical part of ongoing hospital efforts to reduce costs. The third move is a proposed transfer of home health care services to another local nonprofit, Hospice by the Bay.

With regard to the proposed home health care changes, the hospital board is inviting the public to participate in an informational meeting Wednesday, Aug. 15, at 5 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 177 First St. West. The purpose of the meeting is to garner public input on the transition of home health care service to the hospice.

Email Janis at janis.mara@sonomanews.com.