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RRH pursues district partnership

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital(RRH)–The East Kern Health Care District (EKHCD) passed a resolution at its June 6 board meeting in Mojave to explore a proposal to annex Ridgecrest Regional Hospital into the district.

Although the details of what such a merger could look like have yet to be established, EKHCD Attorney Alex Lemieux told the board that the district could essentially become the landlord for RRH, leasing assets back to the hospital. At the same time, the rural healthcare facility could leverage its status as a district hospital to qualify for state and federal relief programs.

RRH Chief Executive Officer Jim Suver reported to the board and community that the hospital had made significant investments to recover from the 2019 earthquakes and to fund mandates and precautions during the three-year COVID pandemic. However, state and federal reimbursements needed to be more adequate to cover service costs, and in three years, RRH plummeted from profitability to operating at a $15 million loss annually.

Suver noted that one lesson learned during the last few years is that some forms of state and federal assistance are unavailable to private, non-profit hospitals. But by joining a district, RRH could qualify for other forms of financial relief and flexibility on capital projects like seismic retrofitting.

While starting a new district could take years, joining an existing district, like EKHCD, could potentially expedite solutions to retain services for the Indian Wells Valley community and beyond.

The multi-pronged approach toward fiscal recovery for RRH has included making operational adjustments to reduce losses, advocating for elected officials to address the structural deficit for healthcare reimbursements, and exploring the options of affiliating with other health systems.

“Our rural communities have learned that we can always accomplish more when we collaborate — which can streamline efficiency and amplify our voices in the fight to retain healthcare access for our remote communities,” said Tom Hayes, administrative consultant for RRH.

“We look forward to supporting the EKHCD in their endeavor to gather info and a path forward to serve East Kern residents.”