December 8, 2006

Sale of Paradise Valley Hospital Seems Looming for Indigent

By Raymond R. Beltran

Not long after National City’s Paradise Valley Hospital was threatened to be stripped of government funding by health care officials, the staff was immediately floored by the announcement that the non-profit owners, Adventist Healthcare, are selling the 103 year old facility to the for-profit buyer, Prime Healthcare, for an approximate $35 million.

While Paradise Valley doctors are on the defensive about accusations of deficient services and machinery, a few local residents who’ve gotten wind of the possible sale (which is now in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office) fear a looming void in health care for the South Bay indigent in the near future.

“The sale and possible closure of Paradise Valley Hospital is an issue that requires extensive discussion so community input can be included and medicals needs, especially of the poor, indigent and senior residents, are not sacrificed solely for the sake of profits,” reads a letter to Adventist consultants from local resident and business owner, Herman Baca.

What worries residents, as well as staff, is that the transfer from a non-profit to a for-profit operation could lead to a loss of unique services for the hospital’s 25 percent HMO (or Medi-Cal) patients and that the new owner’s, CEO Prem Reddy M.D., bottom line will be monetary.

“I’m very upset about the Adventists abandoning this market,” says twenty seven year veteran doctor and Medical Director of the Senior Health Center, Ben Medina. “It’s a very needy community and we’ve done a lot to improve the quality over the years. I’ve brought a lot of good doctors here.”

Paradise Valley Hospital expands 52 acres, housing 1,550 employees and volunteers who are responsible for up to 360,000 patients annually, 25 percent uninsured and 35 percent underinsured. Dr. Medina prides the hospital on its one of a kind rehabilitation center, the 64-bed psychiatric hospital, and the Bay View Senior Center, where, he says, the staff has gone beyond their duty to provide dieticians for the elderly as well as acquire a half a million dollars in free medication for indigent patients from a number of pharmaceutical companies.

As a non-profit, with government reimbursements for HMO or indigent patients, Medina says Paradise Valley has provided up to $8 million annually in charitable funds to treat the poor. He worries that for a profit based corporation like Prime, that’s too significant an amount to bestow anyone.

“That’s a very important aspect and continuation of care because it doesn’t make any difference what you tell a patient, if he can’t afford to buy his medication, you’ve done nothing for them,” says Medina.

But even as an honorable deed from a health care facility, charity may be what dug Paradise Valley into a financial $8 million deficit since 2005, leading Adventist to sell the hospital to a company that’s earned a reputation for resurrecting faltering hospitals by being hard on contracts with HMO providers.

Also, earlier this year, the Joint Commission of Accreditation of Health discovered a handful of deficiencies, including drug dosage errors, unsafe pharmacy practices, and improper refrigeration of food among those reported, that are compromising Paradise Valley’s accreditation status as well as government funding for Medi-Cal patients (HMOs) if they don’t remedy the issues by January 21.

A mammogram machine was also found to be insufficient, but Dr. Medina says the only discrepancy is that it hadn’t been licensed at the time of inspection.

“If the hospital were to close down, we’d be missing an important link,” says San Diego’s Auxiliary Bishop Gilbert Chavez of St. Joseph Cathedral, a church from where many priests make visits to Paradise Valley’s patients. “The hospital is serving the poor in the area, and I expressed concern of the possibility of it being closed or changed, because the needy of the community could be affected by this change. Where will they go?”

Paradise Valley fills a void, or acts more of an anchor in size compared to other facilities, for South Bay’s poor community in need of care. Without acute patient programs like rehab and the senior center, many will be forced to travel too far up north as was argued when UCSD sent 385 acute patient beds to La Jolla, and this community of uninsured seems to be running out of options.

Non-profit Tenet Healthcare sold Alvarado Hospital, in the College Area of San Diego, to for-profit Plymouth Health-care, and the hospital is now being forced to shut down by federal officials. Scripps Health Network CEO Chris Van Gor-der has expressed concern over South Bay hospitals headed for financial disaster, namely Scripps in Chula Vista, and Dr. Medina found out on Tuesday that his hospital’s senior center will be facing a shut down before the transfer is made.

Adventist has cancelled their contract made with Molina Healthcare, providing HMO plans for 9,400 patients who will now be headed to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

The decision to sell Paradise Valley will be made by February 19, and the Attorney General’s Office is still in the early stages of evaluating the transfer, says Representative Theresa Schilling.

A public meeting must be made fourteen days prior to any written decision from their office, but Shilling said that meeting won’t take place until after the holidays.

“Ultimately, we are looking to make sure that there are no changes to services in the facility,” she said.

There is an unnamed independent consultant involved in the AG’s office reviewing the transfer documents. The cost of the firm is currently undisclosed but Schilling says the future owners of Paradise Valley will be billed.

Local activists including the Reverend George Walker Smith and Committee on Chicano Rights founder Herman Baca will be organizing a public meeting to call on elected officials to take a more vocal position on the sale. It will be held this Saturday, Dec 9, at 10 a.m. at the Catfish Club (610 Gateway Center Way, Ste G).

National City Planning Department Director Roger Post responded to inquiries directed toward the City Managers Office and stated he’s “not aware of the position of the city” on the issue.

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