Kaweah Delta listening to community

Kaweah Delta held its first of five listening sessions December 12 at a town hall held at 210 Connect in downtown Visalia. Using the defeat of Measure H as a learning opportunity, Kaweah Delta has scheduled five town halls in its five zones to listen “more carefully and more often to our community.”

“We want to further involve the community to gather feedback, so that we can continually improve in our efforts to meet the healthcare needs of our region,” said Gary Herbst, Kaweah Delta’s Chief Executive Officer. “Working with the community has been a phenomenal experience and as a result, we know that no matter the challenge, we will end up with a better solution.”

Measure H was the 2016 proposed general obligation bond that would have helped replace a sizeable number of hospital beds located in the older side of Kaweah Delta Medical Center (what is called the “Mineral King Wing”), which does not meet state earthquake standards.

An audience question that elicited a lengthy and detailed response from Herbst was how much hospital district residents’ taxes will go up if they have to pay for Kaweah Delta’s retrofit.

Herbst said one of the reasons that Measure H failed was because they rushed it. The hospital was trying to get the measure passed so it could take advantage of the low interest rates. Since then they have looked at about a dozen different options and strategies ranging in cost from $150 million to $600 million.

In the past Kaweah Delta built the Acequia Wing, a 135-bed facility, for $200 million. The hospital covered two-thirds of that cost and the tax payers covered one-third. “We want to go back to that model,” said Herbst. He made it clear, though, that no matter what option Kaweah Delta chooses, even though it has a grade A rating from Moody’s, it will not be able to borrow or fund the entire project itself and will have to depend on the taxpayers.

Kaweah Delta is also trying to expand its district’s boundary to include Dinuba, Cutler, Orosi and Exeter. Those cities use Kaweah Delta as their primary hospital but do not pay taxes for its upkeep like the residents of Visalia.

All California hospitals’ retrofits are to be completed by 2030, but Herbst said they were looking into if Kaweah Delta would qualify for an exemption. The state’s goal is that all hospitals will be able to function in the event of a catastrophic earthquake which, Herbst said, Kaweah Delta could. The hospital’s ORs are seismically compliant and they are permitted to use the Visalia Convention center for hospital beds in case the Mineral King Wing is damaged.

He added that Kaweah Delta has an 0.01% chance of collapse in a major earthquake and he wants the state to take that fact into account. In addition, 40% of California’s hospitals are not in compliance and will have to close in 2030 if they can’t afford a retrofit. Herbst said the state’s legislature might have to do some compromising.

Another major concern brought up by the audience was Kaweah Delta’s quality of service.

Herbst said that he was happy with Healthgrades giving Kaweah Delta high marks in cardiac care, where it was rated in the top 10% of hospitals nationwide. Also, U.S. News & World Report has named Kaweah Delta’s nursing home care in the top 19% of U.S. skilled nursing facilities in the nation.

But he expressed his disappointment in Kaweah Delta’s C grade for the third time in a row from Leapfrog. The C grade was the result of patients acquiring infections such as MRSA and C Diff while in the hospital.

Herbst said that they take care of a very sick population and that makes them vulnerable to infection. Cedar Sinai, UCLA, and Sutter Health also received a C grade because they are dealing with a similar vulnerable population he said.

“We are struggling with infection prevention in this population,” he said. But Herbst expressed that the hospital’s goal was to provide world class care. “That doesn’t mean we have to be a John Hopkins or do heart transplants, he said. But he said there is no reason they can’t provide world class care and that would mean zero infections.

To help improve the situation the hospital is recruiting a Chief Quality Control Officer and a promising recruit will be interviewing this January.

Another concern was when the emergency room expansion would be completed.

Herbst started by thanking the Kaweah Delta Guild for its patience, because during the expansion the hospital has had to take over its gift shop. He said, as a consolation, the guild could have as many bazaars as it wants during construction.

An eight-bed “fast track” section has just opened that handles 40 – 50 non-emergencies a day. Herbst said that it has had a remarkable impact on the wait times in the emergency room. A nine-bed addition is under construction now and should be open in January or February.

The construction happening in the east parking lot, where the old Visalia Municipal Hospital used to stand, won’t be completed for another year. After all the construction is finished Kaweah Delta’s emergency department will be double the original size

Other questions involved the need for more nurses and doctors. Herbst said there is a countrywide shortage of nurses but that Kaweah Delta just recruited 90 new nurses. That would still result in 50 positions being open. He also said that the hospital has 19 new physicians.

The five town halls will be hosted in the five zones that make up the Kaweah Delta Health Care District and each will be hosted by the board member who represents the particular zone. The next town hall will take place February 27th and will be hosted by Zone 2 director Dr. Lynn Mirviss.

For more information, on this or other upcoming town halls, visit www.kaweahdelta.org/townhall.

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