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Jim Suver, CEO Ridgecrest Regional Hospital / Laura Austin Photo

Hospital faces serious challenges

Guest Editorial

Dear Community,

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital (RRH) faces perhaps its most serious set of threats in the history of our institution. Our local governance represents the interests of our public in the organization. In times of growth or in difficulty, that mission remains the same — preserving services that promote health and wellness for the Indian Wells Valley and surrounding communities. 

Many of the current challenges we face are not unique to our community, nor to our hospital. The strain of the pandemic severely taxed facilities across health care, and the ensuing supply shortages, staffing challenges and runaway inflation have amplified that financial burden. Our hospital had not yet recovered from the earthquake when these new pressures hit, putting us at an even greater disadvantage. 

The cost of doing business has increased for everyone — in health care and beyond. Unlike most other industries, hospitals cannot adjust their reimbursement rates for service. But because of our commitment to our community, and our geographic isolation, we continue to make strategic choices about how to remain viable for the community that we serve. We are prioritizing core services, even as we evaluate how to reduce our costs and find new sources of revenue.

Our recent loss of cancer services highlights these challenges. In the fall of 2017, RRH opened the Cancer Center, thanks to support from a clinical partnership with U.C. Davis. We were excited to offer this level of care to the community, and hoped in time to build a more comprehensive program. In July, our partners at City of Hope announced that because of a shortage of oncologists, they were withdrawing support to RRH (as well as other satellite treatment centers). Our staff researched options for retaining the service, but without the key element provided through the clinical partnership, it was not possible.

We are aggressively working to resolve our fiscal crises as they present, but we also know that we have others down the road that could potentially set us back even further. Among those is a proposed state ballot initiative in 2024 to raise minimum wages to $25 per hour for all employees. While we would love to pay our staff more, these cost increases to healthcare institutions cannot be sustained without finding ways to match service reimbursements to rising costs. 

The leadership for the California Hospital Association perhaps put it best: “The coming years will test hospital leaders like never before. Two things we know for certain: expenses will continue to rise, and revenue growth will remain low and insufficient. Our larger issues as a field are about improved reimbursement — Medi-Cal, Medicare, and private insurance.”

In the meantime, our entire clinical staff at RRH continue to work hard every day to protect the health and wellness of you and your family, our administrative staff. Every administrator is working tirelessly to continue to solve the logistical and financial impediments to health care that crop up on a daily basis. The RRH team is also working with our elected officials to examine how the delta between expenses and reimbursements are wreaking havoc on healthcare systems. We continue to work on recruitment and retention of providers, which are in short supply everywhere. We are exploring every possible partnership and support system that can assist us in providing high-quality, sustainable services to our community. But so far, there are no options that do not carry some element of hardship.

Jim Suver, 

CEO Ridgecrest Regional Hospital