What started as an orderly public hearing on Wednesday night, Feb. 13, turned into shouting, arguing, accusations, and name calling from the audience as the Oak Valley Hospital board hosted its first forum on the proposed closing of the hospital’s obstetrics department.
At the district’s Jan. 23 board meeting, CEO John McCormick, citing financial concerns, announced that he would be looking into shutting down obstetrics treatment and child birthing at the Oakdale hospital. The board of directors set up two public hearing dates on the matter for Feb. 13 and Feb. 20.
The first of the meetings was emotionally charged as the audience, consisting of residents, former patients, and hospital employees addressed the 10-person panel. All were in support of keeping the unit, which delivered 213 babies last year, open.
Elgeva Burton started the public forum by asking the board if the OB department was the only department within the hospital that was losing money.
Board President Dan Cummins explained that every department had been under scrutiny for their efficiency of operation.
“This department (OB) has been shown production wise to lose money year to year,” Cummins said, adding that OVH obstetrics lost $750,000 last year.
Board member Dr. Edward Chock interjected that other departments may have lost money, but did not approach the magnitude of the loss from obstetrics.
As others from the audience approached the podium and asked about specific losses to the department and alternatives, McCormick explained he was looking to the future of how healthcare would be delivered and changes to the system three to five years out. He added that a state study showed three out of four district residents go outside of Oak Valley for baby deliveries.
“Insurance babies in the marketplace go to other places,” McCormick said. “Oak Valley is a small facility and can’t absorb losses. The tough choices like now would save the ER (emergency room) in five years.”
Dr. James Yip, Director of Obstetrics for the hospital since 2007, spoke at length, pointing out that the obstetrics department has not had one “bad event” and there have been no malpractice lawsuits in that time.
“We have a very clean record,” Yip claimed.
Yip also said that an obstetrics department brings value to a hospital and with ‘Obama Care’ there was going to be more demand for services in the future.
“To me, to restrict service at this time, it’s an inopportune service,” Yip said. “Taking away $750,000 of debt, doesn’t mean you get $750,000 credit you can utilize.”
Other speakers came to the podium asking about obstetrics emergency services with the closure of the unit and if there was any contingency planned. Others inquired how the $750,000 was determined.
Disorder and Shouts
Audience members also began to erratically ask questions from their seats with cross-talk among supporters as various board members attempted to answer the slew of inquiries.
“Please do not think we’ve not done all we can for this program,” said McCormick, trying to talk over the audience.
“If there is any way we can save it financially, that’s what we have to work on,” said Cummins, telling the audience that two of his children were born at OVH.
Denise Davis, a nurse in obstetrics, told the board that she felt a decision had already been made.
“Mr. McCormick, you are not a person who lives in this town and don’t know its fiber,” Davis said. “There are second and third generations having babies at Oak Valley.”
Shouts from the audience continued as others joined in that a decision had already been made and accusations of some board members’ “body language” indicated that trying to save the obstetrics department was a lost cause.
As McCormick attempted to explain that he was trying to base his decision on anticipated healthcare changes and reimbursements that would not cover losses in the future, he was interrupted several times by shouted accusations and questions.
“I’m trying to explain here, please do not interrupt me,” said McCormick, followed by a sharp, “Thank you.”
“Excuse me?” a male audience member, later identified as Davis’ husband Kevin Davis, snapped from his seat. “Excuse me? That was rude. You’re an a--.”
Kevin Davis got up and left the room, slamming the door. Others followed.
“As CEO, I can’t just look at one department,” said McCormick. I have to look at the whole facility.”
Board members stressed that despite public belief, a decision has not been made.
Biancha Signorelli informed the board that OVH was a “whole hospital” when the latest bond measure passed and people had an expectation for its current operation when voting to pass the measure.
“No one on this board ran with the intention of shutting anything down,” said board member Dr. Wendell Chun. “I have not come to any decision.”
The nearly two-hour meeting closed with the next hearing date set for tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.
After the meeting McCormick said despite the audience reaction, he was impressed with the nursing staff that made good points for the board to continue.
Cummins said since the meeting was more of a “public forum,” he allowed leeway with the audience asking questions from their seats and open two-way discussion with their concerns.
The Oak Valley Board of Directors is expected to vote on the proposed closure at its Feb 27 meeting.