Gridley comes together to ‘Save Our Hospital’

Biggs-Gridley Memorial is scheduled to close in 2009

Along Highway 99 between Chico and Yuba City, the only hospital is in Gridley. But that hospital, Biggs-Gridley Memorial, owned by Fremont-Rideout Health Group, is scheduled to shut its doors come January.

“There are a lot of people in this rural area of the south county that would lose access to an emergency room in a timely manner,” said Ed Becker, director of the hospital’s foundation and chairman of the long-range planning committee. “It would be 18 miles to the closest emergency room.”

Fremont-Rideout, which runs a number of medical facilities in the region, announced the plan to close Biggs-Gridley Memorial last month. Since then, the community has begun raising money to try to regain ownership and asked Fremont-Rideout to turn over the reins by Nov. 1.

Back in 2001, then-community-run Biggs-Gridley Memorial Hospital partnered with Fremont-Rideout, whose largest facility is Rideout Memorial in Marysville, in hopes of improving. At the time, California’s attorney general commissioned a report from UC Berkeley on hospital closures because there were so many of them, indicating Biggs-Gridley was just one of many (mostly community) hospitals facing financial hardships.

“The hospital industry—citing seismic retrofit requirements, managed care and shrinking reimbursements—has predicted that up to 150 of the state’s hospitals will close in the next few years,” the report, titled California’s Closed Hospitals, 1995-2000, stated.

“The reason we merged was we needed their assistance,” said Becker, who was chairman of the board in 2001. “We believe now we can operate profitably like the Colusa and Willows hospitals do.”

Fremont-Rideout doesn’t agree. In a press release sent out Tuesday (Sept. 9), CEO Terri Hamilton explained that the hospital has been losing money for the past decade. The 49-bed facility holds an average of seven people per day, she said, and “we simply can’t make an inpatient hospital viable with those kinds of losses.”

Becker said he believes the hospital’s closure would bring devastation to the cities of Gridley, Biggs and Live Oak. For one, it’s the second-largest employer in the community, with an $8 million payroll. And if it closes, patients will have to go all the way to Marysville for care, so there is cause for concern, he said.

The health group’s press release acknowledged the community’s efforts to raise money to regain ownership, and Hamilton said they’d be willing to negotiate if a “responsible entity” steps forward to take on the financial burden. It also proposed to create a 24-hour urgent-care center to deal with emergencies, with additional services offered at Marysville’s Rideout Hospital.

“We are aware of this concept, and we would certainly consider an option that included acute-care beds and an emergency room linked with an outpatient center,” Becker said of the proposal. “But we are continuing on our campaign to raise funds to return the hospital to local control.”

The effort to raise $250,000 by October has been dubbed “Save Our Hospital,” and has been covered in depth in the Gridley Herald. Organizations as widespread as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, car dealerships and other local businesses have signed on to donate portions of proceeds or hold fund-raisers for the hospital.

The threat of losing the facility seems to have united the community, with individuals pitching in to hold Tupperware parties and car washes. The City Council also approved a $300,000 line of credit, which is needed in addition to the $250,000 in order to show an operating reserve, the Herald reported.

Thus far, Becker said, the hospital foundation has raised approximately $150,000.