In critic(al) condition

Coming up:
The Fiction 59 contest is just around the corner. Check the Jan. 25 issue for details. In the meantime, authors, start thinking up short stories!

In a sad coincidence, this edition of the CN&R’s annual Health Issue comes on the heels of bad news at two local hospitals.

On Jan. 11, Enloe Medical Center announced it will make a 5 percent cut in its workforce—mainly by laying off nurses’ aides, some of whom will be able to come back in different capacities. Two days later, Feather River Hospital said it would close its Skilled Nursing Center, reassigning 25 nurses.

Administrators at both facilities cited low reimbursement rates as prime factors. Hospitals everywhere struggle to collect sufficient funds from Medicare, Medi-Cal and other insurers, they say. Moreover, they must provide care for anyone who comes in the emergency room, insured or not. Hospitals operate on low margins, they add, with the need to invest capital in expensive technology to remain current.

Enloe faces another heavy cost: its expansion project, with a price tag of $130 million at the moment—and who knows how much higher as construction costs skyrocket.

So Enloe and Feather River are cutting expenses. At Feather River, that means cutting services; at Enloe, that means cutting jobs—and possibly service, too, as members of the nursing staff have told CN&R News Editor Robert Speer (see Newslines).

Even without Gov. Schwarzenegger’s push for insurance reform, this is a crucial time for physicians, clinics and medical centers.

Enloe faces particular challenges. Over the years, the board and administration have alienated segments of the Chico medical community with ivory-tower decision-making. Interim CEO Beth O’Brien has improved communication with “stakeholders,” yet the organization continues to rely on consultants—spending a lot of money on people who tell them to spend less money (using lofty words like “stakeholders”).

Now that the painful cuts have been made, “the new CEO can focus on the work ahead,” said O’Brien, who should get a thank-you gift from that person for doing her own dirty work and not leaving it for the next administration.

Her successor will have a hard enough time. Doctors question the intelligence of a hospital that’s disenfranchised its anesthesiologists; the new CEO will need to restore their faith and regain their referrals. That’s on top of reigniting enthusiasm for the Century Project and lifting employee morale.

Failure to do so will force even more drastic changes at the North State’s trauma center. That would be traumatic, indeed.

News & Review news: CN&R’s internship program now includes photojournalism, and so we welcome Desiree Cousineau to our newsroom. She joins writing interns Bryce Benson, Marisol Salgado and Colin Thompson. We have room for another journalism student; if you are interested in reporting and/or copy editing, contact me by e-mail (<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript"> </script>) or phone (894-2300, x2240).

Memo to downtown Peet’s: Pick Mollie as employee of the month in February and Aubrey in March (when her new CD comes out). Thanks!—A loyal patron.