Enloe pardons Glenn—for now

Just a week before it was set for severe cutbacks in service, Glenn Medical Center got some good news when Enloe Health System and the Glenn County Board of Supervisors announced Feb. 21 an agreement to keep the hospital doors open for another four months.

On Jan. 23, Enloe, which took over the operations of Glenn County General Hospital in 1995, announced that after six years of operating in the red it would close the 24-hour emergency room and transition the hospital into an outpatient clinic.

That news brought howls of protest from a wide range of interests, including Glenn County residents, government officials and law enforcement agencies. Enloe tried to explain its position at two-hour town hall meeting, but the criticism, born of fear, anger and distrust, continued.

Locals were afraid emergency cases would not be treated in a timely manner if forced to make the 45-minute ambulance trip to Enloe Medical Center in Chico. And, though Enloe has a helicopter that can make the round-trip flight in 20 minutes, bad weather or competing calls could jeopardize its availability.

The Willows and Orland police departments and the California Highway Patrol, which has an office in Willows, all expressed concerns about their abilities to function efficiently without a 24-hour medical service available. Glenn County Sheriff Bob Shadley warned the county could lose its contract with Immigration and Naturalization Services to incarcerate undocumented aliens awaiting deportation or contesting deportation orders. That contract is worth $1 million to county coffers.

The Glenn Board of Supervisors retained a Sacramento law firm to explore possible legal action. Enloe then offered to keep outpatient service open 24 hours instead of its original offer of 10 hours. Glenn County Counsel Belinda Blacketer warned the supervisors that an outpatient service is a far cry from an emergency room.

On Feb. 21, Bernie Hietpas, the Glenn Medical Center COO, wrote a letter to the Department of Health Services, announcing Enloe’s decision not to rescind Glenn’s state operating license.

“In the spirit of cooperation,” he wrote, “Enloe Medical Center has agreed to a request from the Glenn County Board of Supervisors to continue to provide [inpatient and emergency services] until July 1.”

The county argued that Enloe’s proposed action to curtail medical services violated the 50-year lease and operational agreement signed by Enloe in 1995.

The agreement reached by the two parties says Enloe will make efforts to retain the employees and staff necessary to comply with the original agreement and continue to provide all the services called for in that agreement. Plus, if the county so requests on or before July 1, Enloe will continue operations for another two months.

The agreement gives the county more time to try to find another administrator or a means of taking over operations itself.