By Lauren Westmoreland
The Eastern Plumas Health Care (EPHC) Board of Directors held a regularly scheduled meeting on the morning of Thursday, March 25, with all present and a brief agenda.
The directors approved the consent calendar unanimously before Director Gail McGrath gave a brief EPHC Auxiliary report.
“The numbers are up a little,” McGrath said. There was a financial net loss at the Nifty Thrifty of $571 during January, but in February bounced back with a net profit of $3,729. “We’re on our way back up, with lots of donations coming in and the store has extended hours to include Tuesdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.,” McGrath added. “This means that the Nifty Thrifty is now open five days a week, Tuesdays through Saturdays.”
Chief Nursing Officer Penny Holland reported that the hospital had been staying on track, with the acute floor doing well. “We had a little run of quite a few patients but now we’re down to one patient,” Romero said. “We’ve also hired three new registered nurses that are really promising to help out with staffing. Things are looking really positive.”
Human Resources Director Lori Tange gave a brief report, touching on the topic of unemployment on national, state, and local levels. “Across the country there were 684,000 U.S. workers who filed for new unemployment benefits in the just the week ending in March 20, and jobless claims remain at extraordinarily high levels,” Tange said. “The economic outlook is expected to continue to improve with the vaccine rollout.”
Tange noted that “here at home,” staff is continuing to see positive response to staffing efforts, with several positions filled lately at EPHC, including several regular and per diem positions for nursing and across the organization. There is a new front desk lead in the clinic at Portola, and EPHC is offering a generous sign-on bonus for a part-time paramedic position in the ambulance department.
In parting, Tange reported that a new 2021 Covid-19 supplemental paid sick leave law will go into effect Monday, March 29, and EPHC will follow all guidelines and requirements to continue to ensure that their employees are protected by this benefit.
Chief Financial Officer Katherine Pairish reported on the finances for February, saying, “We posted a net profit in the amount of $1,089,628 – thanks to the HQAF6 IGT in the amount of $1,697,607. As we have discussed, the intergovernmental transfers, or IGT’s, are crucial to our continued success.”
Total patient revenue for February was under budget by $445,461 while total operating expenses for the month were over budget by $68,018. “Year-to-date net income was $592,943,” Pairish said. “We budgeted for a year-to-date net loss of $1,409,244.”
Year-to-date, Eastern Plumas Health Care has paid $450,883 for Covid-19 supplies and testing. “We have received quite a bit of money from the government in the way of Covid relief,” Pairish clarified in response to a question from Director Teresa Whitfield. “We have not recognized any revenue from this money yet. We’re still trying to navigate through rules that are changing almost daily in how to report all of this.”
Moving forward, staff will be starting the 2021/2022 budget process during the first part of April.
Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) Director Lorraine Noble the census was at 52 that day, with two rehabs in Loyalton and two planned admissions in the next week.
“There have been no Covid cases in any residents which is wonderful,” Noble said. She also noted that nursing facility residents were very happy to have in-room visitation with their families restored once more.
Noble reported that she had just concluded a round of interviews for the upcoming CNA class which would start on April 12, adding that she had six solid candidates. Noble also spoke to the difficulties that staff continued to experience due to shortages, with staff short a CNA over half the week in both facilities. “We currently have four full-time CNA positions open,” she said.
Noble then addressed the respite portion of the strategic plan, saying, “Respite is available on our acute floor, and we do have a contract with Tahoe Forest Hospice, and the folks that are in the community on Tahoe Forest Hospice can get up to five days of respite paid for by MediCare, in the acute.”
In EPHC’s units, there hasn’t yet been an in-depth conversation about extending respite, Noble explained. “I would like to have that conversation because I’m not sure what the needs of the community are at this point.”
In response to a question regarding whether Tahoe Forest Hospice could give Eastern Plumas some clarification on the number of families in the district that might need respite assistance,
Noble responded no. “Tahoe Forest Hospice has not been allowed to come into the skilled nursing units over the last year,” Noble said. “They are aware that they can use our acute floor for respite care, but they haven’t done it for quite a while. I think for about three years, they haven’t done that.”
CEO Doug McCoy added to the conversation, stating that in his most recent talks with the county, there were an estimated 120 seniors that are at a level of shut-in status.
“There’s obviously a growing concern for those folks who are either voluntarily or medically at home, and there are also reports of a growing population of families supporting seniors at home, so that’s where we want to try to provide some type of support for them,” McCoy said. “We’re seeing increasing depression rates across the county and a lot of care provider burnout.”
It was then stressed that there are specific requirements that must be met for EPHC to offer respite care services, including a physician to admit, in addition to other admissions documentation. “I do not have private rooms for folks with behavioral or end-of-life issues,” Noble explained.
Dr. Swanson noted that it might be a direction in which Eastern Plumas should expand, and the discussion turned to McCoy’s report.
McCoy first stated that he was very pleased with the progress that had been made in the past 40 days in the clinics, with new construction plans initiated in December 2020 still underway with the assistance of staff.
McCoy reported the addition of a new full-time skilled nurse practitioner, Dana Culp, as well as the addition of Dr. Catherine Colpitts at the clinic in Graeagle three days a week. “I am very excited to announce that Dr. John Hibler will be appointed chief of staff at EPHC on Monday, March 29,” McCoy said.
McCoy also extended his best wishes to Dr. Lovsho Phen who will be retiring on Wednesday, March 31. “Thank you for your years of service,” he said.
It was noted that the clinics director position was still vacant, and that there were several capital plans in motion currently, including potential remodel and expansion on facilities in Loyalton.
“We are looking at getting some bids about what we can do with the second floor of the Commercial Street building in Portola,” McCoy said. “To either serve as meaningful use for the community or create more space for campus.”
McCoy also noted that there was an ongoing strong conversation among various statewide hospital districts regarding the fact that California has elected Anthem Blue Shield as the third-party administrator for the Covid vaccine process and switched the entire registration process to a platform called MyTurn.
“It has been a very difficult transition, as it requires both providers and counties to sign a contract with Blue Shield. At last count, I believe there were 52 out of 58 counties that were not willing to do that, and almost all Bay Area hospitals in California are taking the same approach,” McCoy explained.
This would require Eastern Plumas to purchase an interface for its system that would cost in the ballpark of $15,000, in addition to other requirements, and McCoy said at this point they would continue as they had been doing to roll out the vaccines.
McCoy emphasized the focus on patient experience, highlighting the amount of patient feedback that has increased as a positive. He also reported that the behavioral health telemedicine program had gone live in both skilled nursing facilities.
After a brief discussion around various policies, all were approved and Dr. Paul Swanson gave an update on finances, highlighting the request from legal counsel Steve Gross to receive a rate change as his had remained stationary since 2007.
Public comment on the mine
Multiple concerned members of the community then spoke on the topic of the proposed industrial mine in Portola, with various people stressing the many health hazards that such a project would pose to the community.
It was noted that the proposed mine’s operating center would be located only 1.2 miles from the hospital, and that such health risks from toxic dust and substances could seriously impact the community’s health, the effects to the water table, roads, air quality, and more.
Local Realtor Juli Thompson noted that property values would see negative impact if this project moved forward, citing herself and another Realtor’s loss in two recent sales due to the potential for this mine and the potential for future drops in property value in the range of 30-50 percent.
“The market here had been improving, but if this project is approved, it is going to set a dangerous precedent for all of Plumas County,” Thompson said. “This location is zoned as agricultural preserve land, and the previous small mine was only operated under a special use permit.”
One long-time resident, Adrienne Stenson, told the board, “People rely on you to be leaders in the health of this community.” All encouraged the board to join the more than 1,000 residents that have already signed the petition to oppose the mine. The board asked anyone who didn’t have time to speak to please submit their comments in writing or via email.
All agreed that they would be tasking Director Linda Satchwell with research on their bylaws so as to formulate a letter of opposition to be sent to the County and all district supervisors, including District One Supervisor Dwight Ceresola.
With no further public comment, all moved to closed session and the public meeting was adjourned. For more information on meetings of the Board of Directors of Eastern Plumas Health Care or how to attend, contact Jessica Folchi at [email protected].