CHA News

Hospital Leaders Share Access Concerns with Lawmakers

What’s happening: CHA convened a gathering in Sacramento of critical access hospital (CAH) leaders, legislators, and staff this week in support of Senate Bill (SB) 1423 (Dahle, R-Bieber), which aims to stabilize health care services in rural, remote communities.  

What else to know: On Tuesday, leaders from eight CAHs visited the offices of 12 lawmakers to convey the serious challenges they face keeping their doors open and the threat posed by the loss of hospital services in rural and underserved communities.   

Hospital leaders meet with Sen. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) to discuss SB 1423, which would provide at-cost reimbursement for Medi-Cal services for critical access hospitals.

Each of California’s 37 CAHs has 25 or fewer beds and serve communities at least 35 miles from another medical facility. Under serious financial pressure, nearly two-thirds are operating in the red. The communities they serve are the backbone of California’s agriculture sector, water supply, tourism, and more. 

During their meetings with policymakers, CAH leaders shared stories of the impact they have on the communities they serve and the significant struggles they are facing: 

  • Frances Hannah, President & CEO of Surprise Valley Hospital — “We’re all wearing many hats. I’m running the hospital, driving the ambulance, drawing blood, and I’m not the only one. We’re all stretched to capacity to make sure patients get what they need. We’ve cut as many services as we can — we can’t cut anymore. We have one emergency room bed and four acute beds. There’s nothing left to cut.” 
  • Rena Salamacha, CEO of George L. Mee Memorial Hospital, talking about the essential role her hospital plays during a crisis, like a recent mass shooting in King City — “It was tragic, and we were grateful to save many lives of people critically injured by the event. If we hadn’t been there, those people would have died. Their conditions were too extreme — they couldn’t have survived a one-hour transfer to another hospital.” 

The leaders stressed that if these hospitals close, entire communities could collapse, with major losses of jobs and the essential services hospitals provide. The domino effect would continue, as already strained urban hospitals would see an influx of new patients from rural communities with no place else to go.  

Hospital leaders urged lawmakers to pass SB 1423, which would create cost-based Medi-Cal reimbursement for CAHs. The bill will be heard in the Senate Health Committee on April 24.  

The challenges facing rural hospitals were also in the national spotlight this week. The Coalition to Strengthen America’s Healthcare sponsored a Punchbowl News half-day summit on the future of rural health care on April 9. Speakers, including Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Coalition to Strengthen America’s Healthcare Chair Nancy Howell Agee, discussed the importance of ensuring access to care for patients in rural areas and possible solutions. 

Hospital leaders meet with Sen. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) to discuss the impact of the loss of hospital care on patients.