The CEO of Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital has told Gov. Ducey that coronavirus has taken it to the financial brink and “will result in the closure of this facility in the coming weeks” if aid doesn’t come through.
The March 30 letter from CEO Kelly Adams was included in his request to reconsider the hospital’s proposal to become a designated “COVID-19 treatment resource.”
The possibility of closure was reiterated by Patrick Feeney, who heads Lateral Investment Management, which owns the hospital.
"If we don’t get immediate assistance in the next couple of weeks, this hospital will have no choice but to shut down," he said Friday.
The hospital made a pitch to become a key hospital in the battle against the virus in a March 23 plan submitted to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
On March 28, an email from Carla Berg, chief strategy officer for ADHS, explained to a member of the Green Valley hospital’s legal team that the site was not currently part of the overall plan. She said they would “focus on an acute care hospital site in Phoenix and a review of lower acuity options identified in collaboration with our regional partners.”
The hospital’s predicament is being played out at hundreds of medical facilities across the nation, many of them in rural areas. Emergency Room visits dropped dramatically as the virus broke out and elective surgeries — a big money-maker for hospitals — have been suspended.
At the same time, hospitals have been ordered to ramp up for a surge at a substantial cost, putting a financial strain on smaller hospitals with fewer resources.
“We’re just trying to stay alive like everyone else,” Adams said of the letter he sent to the governor. “We’re looking at, with the downturn of our ER and with the governor eliminating elective surgical cases, every hospital is struggling and scrambling the same way we are.”
While they’re in unfamiliar territory, Adams said the hospital is pursuing financial relief through several avenues and expects them to come through. If they don't come through quickly, the hospital could be forced to close, Feeney said.
Adams said “three things coming in as early as next week” will help the hospital remain on a firm financial footing, including early-release Medicare payments and payroll coverage loans.
“Again, we’re no different than any other hospital. They’re all applying for those funds and they need them now.”
Adams said the alarming tone of his letter got attention and action.
“We’ve got people who have read that letter who are stepping up to help,” he said, adding they should have “a pretty good idea” by next week what the future will look like.
Ducey said on a televised Town Hall meeting Thursday evening that the Army Corps of Engineers is coming to the state to look at establishing two sites in Maricopa County and one in Pima County to help with the surge of patients. The Army Corps will be in Green Valley on Friday.
Raising the issue
The hospital’s precarious position was raised Thursday morning at a special meeting of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
Deputy County Administrator Dr. Francisco Garcia told the board that he isn't worried about a bed shortage yet, but was troubled by potentially losing SCVRH's resources should they close.
"The Santa Cruz Valley Hospital, its viability and whether it will continue to operate is an issue that's come up in just the last 24 hours,” he told the board. “And loss of that bed capacity, for instance, would be tragic for us here in Pima County."
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry told the Green Valley News that the county supports Adams’ letter to Ducey, “and we think it's wise to consider all of the bed capacity you have plus the ability to expand an existing hospital before we start talking about field hospitals.”
Ahead of the order
On March 23, Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital presented to the state a plan that quickly increases bed capacity 65 percent.
The plan made an argument for Green Valley being designated a key hospital in the region because of the older, vulnerable population south of Tucson and because “there is no other hospital within 25 miles.”
Three days after the hospital submitted its plan, Ducey issued an Executive Order require all hospitals to submit plans to increase capacity by 50 percent by April 24.
Two days later, Berg, of the Arizona Health Department Services, said in her email that the state would not commit assistance to SCVRH at this time.
She and the Ducey’s office did not return a call seeking additional information.
Feeney, the hospital owner, said they are facing the same grave funding issues as many other hospitals.
"There's $100 billion in stimulus that's been allocated, that's $100 billion, for hospitals and health care providers," he said. "So all hospitals and health care providers are looking for financial support at this time in order to be able to deliver what the government wants during this pandemic.”
Pima County reported there are 730 open beds, 122 open intensive care unit beds and 184 unused ventilators in the county as of Wednesday. But it reported shortages across the board of Personal Protective Equipment and medical supplies.