With seismic requirements looming, local hospitals seek state help

By Debra Moore

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Plumas District Hospital is just eight years away from radical changes, unless a new hospital is built that meets state seismic requirements. PDH is not alone. Hospitals across the state, including those in Chester and Portola, also must meet Senate Bill-1953 that mandates all hospitals rebuild or retrofit by 2030 to remain fully operational in the event of an 8.0 earthquake.

Hospitals, including Plumas District, have been fighting the mandate for years, and have been successful in achieving some delays, but now the date appears firm. Instead of fighting the mandate, Plumas District Hospital and the 31 other district hospitals in the state are taking a different approach.

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“We are saying we want to do it, we just need help,” said Darren Beatty, the chief operating officer for PDH.

Beatty thinks this is the perfect time to ask for help as the state has a $97.5 billion budget surplus. And the state’s 32 district hospitals are unique as they are political subdivisions of the state. The districts are asking for a one-time expenditure of $1 billion to be shared by the districts to help offset the costs to meet the requirements.

For Plumas District, the cost estimate for a new hospital is $75 million. Beatty estimates that state funding could offset perhaps one-third of the cost once the money is shared.

The district hospitals received a boost this week from Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia who sent a letter the chairs of the state Assembly and Senate budget committees asking for the $1 billion allocation in the state budget revisions due to the governor by June 15. In his request, (which is expected to be supported and signed by other legislators) Garcia wrote: “These hospitals serve rural and remote areas of the state, provider shortage areas, and urban unserved areas. In many communities they are the sole provider of health care, or the sole provider of care to the uninsured or underinsured.”

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Of the 32 district hospitals, 17 are critical access including all three of the Plumas County sites.

District hospitals are funded partly by the taxpayers of their district, but rely primarily on reimbursement for services to survive. “This means they face significant financial challenges in generating funding for capital outlay — especially of this magnitude,” Garcia wrote. “The administration has signaled that infrastructure is critically important and, in that thread, we believe funding should be extended to preserve hospital care for the state’s most vulnerable.” He said the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation.

JoDee Read, the chief executive officer of Plumas District Hospital, said that in addition to the pandemic, PDH was impacted by the Dixie Fire, and she views this support as critical to securing the funding necessary to continue to provide care in the area.

Beatty said that the effort seems to be gaining traction and he is optimistic that the county’s local representatives in the legislature — Assemblymember Megan Dahle and Senator Brian Dahle — will sign on to the request. The legislature has until June 15 to submit a revised balanced budget to the Governor for final approval.

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“We are seeking this budget investment to ensure these public hospitals remain open to provide essential life-saving services to their communities,” Garcia wrote.