Community Frets As Buyer For Cherished Rural Hospital Slips From View

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Confusion is rising within the distant Surprise Valley area of northeastern California as locals wonder if a Denver entrepreneur will make good on his pledge to save lots of their bankrupt rural hospital.

Surprise Valley Community Hospital, situated in Cedarville, Calif., was featured in a June 6 California Healthline story illustrating the plight of strapped rural hospitals and controversial efforts by some to remain solvent by means of laboratory billing for sufferers by no means handled on-site.

Beau Gertz, who owns Denver-based Cadira Labs and different health-related companies, proposed such a plan, saying faraway sufferers may very well be handled by means of telemedicine. Hospital district residents voted in June to approve his buy of the 26-bed public hospital for $four million.

But Gertz hasn’t been seen round city since late spring and web sites for his Denver companies have been shut down, together with these for his labs that may presumably do the billing. Four ex-employees, who spoke on situation of anonymity for concern of retaliation, mentioned they and the remainder of his Colorado-based workers have been laid off.

The entrepreneur’s landlord, David North, mentioned earlier this month that Gertz’s Denver workplace constructing has been empty for weeks. Gertz didn’t reply to emails, texts or telephone calls.

Gertz’s low profile in current weeks has perplexed residents, a few of whom struggled over the choice to promote the hospital to an outsider. Some had been suspicious as a result of plans by a earlier “white knight” — and former enterprise affiliate of Gertz’s — to save lots of the hospital by means of distant lab billing fell by means of final summer time. Also, some have been pissed off when Gertz mentioned in a public assembly that he was below no obligation to supply the neighborhood together with his “financials.”

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“I’ve never met a businessman who operated the way he would, investing in something that’s losing money,” mentioned Amy Beller, 63, a retired graphic designer who lives in Cedarville and had talked with Gertz at a city corridor assembly. “There was nothing there to make me think he was there to help Surprise Valley. I thought he was disingenuous.”

Members of the hospital district board, which deliberate to satisfy Wednesday, have declined to touch upon the standing of the sale. Hospital administrator Bill Bostic mentioned he had spoken to Gertz a number of instances and that the sale is “on track,” however wouldn’t elaborate on the timetable or Gertz’s whereabouts.

“We’re going through a process. It’s complicated, it’s legitimate,” Bostic mentioned. “We’re just trying to keep open, we’re not doing anything underhanded. All we’re trying to do is save our hospital.”

State officers mentioned they’ve acquired no software from Surprise Valley to switch possession or administration of the hospital. The state Department of Public Health should approve all such modifications, a course of that may take months.

Enticed by out-of-town traders, Surprise Valley and different struggling rural hospitals across the nation have embraced lab billing for faraway sufferers as a rescue plan. That’s as a result of Medicare and industrial insurers are inclined to pay extra for checks to maintain endangered rural hospitals, in contrast with how a lot they pay city hospitals and particularly outpatient labs.

In basic, this sort of distant billing is controversial and legally murky, and it not too long ago has resulted in allegations of fraud in a number of states, in keeping with authorities paperwork and media stories.

In the run-up to the vote, Gertz described his plan as completely authorized. He mentioned the hospital, after taking on one in all his Denver labs, might legitimately invoice for sufferers handled remotely by means of video and different telemedicine know-how. The concept appealed to many Surprise Valley residents, determined to save lots of a facility going through imminent closure. Without a purchaser, specialists mentioned, property homeowners within the district might have been liable for repaying the hospital’s mounting money owed — estimated at as much as $four million.

The hospital is taken into account essential by many residents, largely due to its 24-hour emergency room. These days, all however two of its beds are devoted to nursing house sufferers. The subsequent nearest hospital with an ER is about 25 miles away over a mountain move.

Janna Bennett, 61, a public well being nurse who as soon as labored for the hospital, mentioned she nonetheless hopes Gertz will ship on his concepts for a world-class “destination hospital” that he had promised in neighborhood conferences.

“If the deal falls through, I’ll be disappointed. I’ll be angry,” she mentioned.

It just isn’t clear whether or not one in all Gertz’s traders, the Knights Genesis Group with workplaces in New York City, Shanghai and Beijing, continues to again him financially. Eric Cho, who answered the phone on the agency’s New York workplace in late June, confirmed that Knights Genesis was working with Gertz however declined to elaborate. No one else from the corporate since has responded to calls or emails.

If the deal collapses and the hospital can’t discover one other purchaser, residents say it is going to be a tragic finish for a facility that opened in 1952 and as soon as was the satisfaction of the neighborhood, in keeping with Jim Laacke, a retired forester from Cedarville who as soon as served on the hospital’s board.

“This hospital is an idea, generated by the people who were here and a doctor who was much-loved. It is a thing the community created,” Laacke mentioned. “It’s hard to think about it just disappearing.”

Use Our Content This story could be republished without cost (details).

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Barbara Feder Ostrov:”>, @barbfederostrov

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