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EKHCD votes to include Ridgecrest

The East Kern Health Care District Board  (EKHCD)–

The East Kern Health Care District Board of Directors voted on Dec. 5 to expand its borders into the northeast portion of the county, which would include Ridgecrest Regional Hospital and the surrounding community within its boundaries.

“For the last several months, our district leadership has been exploring the feasibility of RRH coming under the auspices of the EKHCD in one fashion or another,” said EKHCD Board President Karen Macedonio.

Following the board’s action, EKHCD and RRH will submit a letter of intent for consideration by the Kern County Local Agency Formation Commission. Pending approval by LAFCO, the process will take approximately six months for the annexation to be completed.

“The main benefit to our community will be improved access to healthcare,” said Macedonio. “We have 12,000 residents who need to be protected and provided for — and this is a critical step toward ensuring we have the resources for that.”

Macedonio said members of the EKHCD board traveled to Ridgecrest to meet with RRH leadership about values and goals. “We were able to establish three principles — access, excellence, and transparency. We have and will continue to allow those values to guide this process.”

RRH would benefit by gaining access to additional sources of federal and state funding.

Macedonio said that in light of threats to sustainable funding and access to healthcare — particularly in rural communities — her board hopes that combining the resources of our East Kern communities will improve the provision of healthcare to its residents.

RRH Board Chair Chris Ellis acknowledged that it, like many geographically remote hospitals, has been in financial distress.

RRH Board Chair Chris Ellis / Laura Austin Photo

In addition to the drivers that have negatively impacted hospitals across the state and nation — rising costs, inadequate reimbursements for service, shortage of qualified providers — the 501c3 status of the hospital meant it was not eligible for funding for earthquake repairs, COVID recovery, and other critical services.

“These unforeseen circumstances have significantly impacted the potential sustainability of our hospital,” said Ellis. To that end, RRH has seen several service cuts relating to inadequate funding and provider shortages.

“We believe that partnering with the East Kern Health Care District will give us a pathway to protect the RRH services that remain and potentially restore what we have lost,” said Ellis.

“We have many challenges today in healthcare, and it’s important to find solutions for those,” said Macedonio. “But I don’t think we are looking for a quick fix – we are looking for a plan that will protect and improve healthcare in our East Kern communities for the next 50 years.”