May 7, 2002
The public needs more information to assess impacts of proposed closure.
Local advocates charged today that the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors failed to provide the public with adequate notice about the proposed closure of the San Luis Obispo County General Hospital. Under California law, the Board of Supervisors is required to post public notice 14 days before a hearing to close a public hospital that contains “a list of the proposed reductions or changes, by facility and service.” But the notice approved by the board provides incomplete information about the impact of the proposed closure.
“This notice falls far short,” said Leslie Bennett, Staff Attorney at Consumers Union’s West Coast Regional Office. “The descriptions related to the medical-surgical, pharmacy, laboratory, radiology, emergency and clinic services have no description of the specific services that are currently provided and that are being cut.” California law mandates that the public notice include the amount and type of each proposed change, the expected savings, and the number of persons affected.
Without specific information regarding services and cuts in the public notice, it will be impossible for the community to adequately review the proposal and provide substantive comment at a public hearing scheduled for May 21st to address the closure of San Luis Obispo General Hospital. “I am concerned that the information as presented will make it difficult for the public to assess how this hospital closure will affect the community,” said Sara Horne, President of League of Women Voters of San Luis Obispo County. “The notice lumps together emergency and walk-in clinic services and gives an estimate of an average cost per visit of $115 for each type of service. That cannot be the true cost of both services since the cost of a walk-in visit is about 40-50% less than an ER visit for the same complaint.”
While the notice suggests that the county will save money by closing the hospital, many advocates challenge that claim. The board’s staff report failed to articulate “how there will be savings after the hospital is closed and the county’s mandate to provide care continues. That will result in the county having to farm out those mental health services to other hospitals, at a cost the county cannot predict,” according to Vita Miller, co-chair of the Coalition to Save General Hospital.
San Luis Obispo General is a central part of the safety net of this community, providing a higher historic average ratio of charity care than almost all of California hospitals in fiscal years 1995 through 1999. Comparing the amount of charity care in cost reported by all hospitals across the state, San Luis Obispo General had the eighth highest average ratio, 7.4% of its total operating expenses. No other hospital in the San Luis Obispo area reported providing a similar amount of charity care in cost compared to total operating expenses from 1995 to 1999. Arroyo Grande Community Hospital reported an average of 1%, French Hospital provided an average of .7%, Twin Cities Community Hospital and Sierra Vista Hospital reported so little charity care that the average was 0%.
“It is tragic that a community may be losing the services of its public hospital without an opportunity for the public to fully participate in the process,” said Janki Darity, Staff Attorney at Consumers Union’s West Coast Regional Office.
Consumers Union (415) 431-6747
Pam Heatherington (805) 544-1777
Director, San Luis Obispo General Charitable Foundation
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is a nonprofit testing and information organization serving only the consumer. Consumers Union is a comprehensive source about unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.