Imperial Valley Coalition for Sustainable Healthcare Facilities

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No Laughing Matter

At the February 22, 2024Imperial Valley Healthcare District (IVHD) board meeting, ECRMC Board member and El Centro City Councilman Tomas Oliva stated to the Board and audience that Pioneers Memorial Hospital (PMHD) and Heffernan (HHD) need to “turn over the keys” to their facilities and dissolve as soon as possible.

This is pretty rich coming from one of the chief architects for the failing El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC). The only “dissolving” being done right now is from fits of laughter because surely he must be joking.

However, the state of ECRMC is no joking matter.  The fact is, under Oliva’s watch (he was elected to Council in 2018) ECRMC — along with its management from UCSD — has run up an enormous debt of some $250 million. UCSD and ECRMC’s board need to answer for this. 

In 2022, El Centro’s Interim City Manager Cedric Cesena said “Over the past five years there’s been an increasing number of financial instabilities at the hospital”.  

Is it possible that the patients who had private commercial insurance were shipped to the UCSD facilities in San Diego while the lower reimbursed Medical and Medicare patients stayed at ECRMC? Is it possible that the UCSD physician groups at ECRMC have more lucrative contractual rates than other physicians serving ECRMC? 

At a December 2022 PMHD Board meeting Scott Phillips, an outside consultant hired by ECRMC’s bond holder and then directly by ECRMC, noted the financial stress on ECRMC stating that ECRMC should declare bankruptcy and even suggested that PMHD take over the management of both hospitals. Yet at the meeting last week, both Oliva and ECRMC CEO Pablo Velez, PhD, RN, vociferously denied that bankruptcy is even on the table.  Bankruptcy is no laughing matter, but neither is running up hundreds of millions of dollars in debt with jobs and the healthcare of thousands at stake.  Everything should be on the table when it comes to fixing ECRMC – including bankruptcy.

The sustainability of our healthcare infrastructure is no laughing matter. The manner in which an uninterrupted delivery of care is the most important thing the IVHD board must consider.  That is why the IVHD board needs to take their time, hire experts, dig for accurate information, and then and only then make informed decisions. Then allow experts, not a career political aide, Mr. Oliva, to lay out a plan with public input before any currently viable healthcare districts are dissolved. 

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