Sierra Vista Hospital’s (SVH) governing board and Joint Powers Commission (JPC) each gathered for a regular meeting late last week, in respective sessions held Wednesday and Thursday, July 22 and 23. In addition to a series of reports focusing on the facility’s budget for the new fiscal year, both bodies addressed a list of annual items, including the election of board officials. 

•Since the COVID-19 health emergency was declared in March, meetings of the governing board and JPC have been restricted solely to members and necessary personnel. Although no provision for public comment has been established, citizen access has been provided via a telephone connection, which at best has proven to be cumbersome and frequently subject to audio feedback and drop-outs.   

 

GAUGING FUNDS AND STATUS

While SVH has thus far weathered the COVID-19 health emergency well, Interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Stephen Huey’s financial report reflected a significant decline in regular hospital services and an approximate loss of over $430,000 since the health crisis was declared. With this noted, patient numbers were seen to rise during the month of June for most departments and despite ongoing health precautions, SVH appears to be effectively managing operations. 

More than offsetting the losses encountered thus far during 2020, has been an influx of COVID-19-related State and federal funding. Hospital leaders were told SHV has received approximately $4.9 million over the same general period in both COVID-19 support, and reimbursements tied to the near completion of new hospital construction.

Although the support revenue and construction paybacks have pushed SVH’s overall fiscal status well into the black, administrative staff are viewing the sudden influx of capital with a wary eye. Board members were told administrative staff were, and would continue, taking careful steps to assure related revenues are fully secured, and not subject to an as yet unseen recall or other complications, before inking-in the ledger.

All told, discussion during both sessions indicated SVH could realize as much as $6-million in COVID-19 support and other scheduled reimbursements before the calendar year’s end.

•With this in mind, both the governing board and JPC addressed SVH’s proposed budget for the 2020/2021 Fiscal Year, which formally began on July 1. CFO Huey admitted that he would be shocked if the budget being presented were to prove even near-accurate, primarily because of the fluid situation surrounding the COVID-19 support funding. He reiterated how the hospital’s budget would be adjusted quarterly through the coming year, and indicated SVH’s leaders could anticipate a number of modifications in the months to come.

Acknowledging these points and that the budget was essentially a best guess at this time, members of the governing board and JPC respectively endorsed Huey’s proposed fiscal plan, ensuring its delivery to state authorities prior to a July 31 deadline. 

 

COVID-19 ACTIVITIES OUTLINED

During his July 23 report to the JPC, Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Tom Ismond provided members with an update on how SVH is addressing positive test results and individual cases of the coronavirus. At the time of the meeting, SVH had reported 22 individuals with positive test results, of which, Ismond said one was hospitalized for a short period, before being released. In general, JPC members were told SVH is maintaining active screening at all entrances and that individuals presenting possible symptoms of COVID-19, or any other illness requiring treatment, are then admitted to the hospital proper. In all but the one case noted, Ismond said SVH officials have encountered individuals with positive test results, but who were asymptomatic. As symptoms of the coronavirus can take days to manifest, he said admission was not a practical option and therefore, such individuals are being advised to self-quarantine at home.

A key point Ismond stressed was that because of confidentiality regulations SVH is not capable or empowered to track or otherwise investigate person-to-person contacts by those testing positive to the coronavirus once they leave the hospital. He told the JPC this task is being addressed by state public health authorities. 

Although SVH is not equipped to provide intensive care and pulmonary treatments sometimes required for the treatment of COVID-19. Ismond said patients exhibiting serious symptoms are therefore being transferred to other hospitals with such capabilities. While not able to effectively treat more severe cases, SVH is prepared to manage patients experiencing lesser symptoms. In this regard, Ismond told the JPC a separated five-room COVID-19 unit had been established and was standing ready to accept patients when and if necessary. 

Ismond’s report further acknowledged SVH’s receipt of a small supply of antiviral medication, which has apparently proven to be effective in helping patients with COVID-19 overcome troublesome aspects of the illness. While available if needed and appropriate, he said the supply of this medication is limited and very expensive, presently tallying in at about $3,200 per dose. 

 

BOARD ELECTIONS RETURN SAME

As part of their annual procedures, both the governing board and JPC address a series of standard items, assuring their respective adherence to state open meetings act requirements and non-discrimination regulations, and reaffirming annual meeting calendars. In addition to these regular measures, the new fiscal year is also greeted with an election of board officers, offering each body an opportunity to renew and/or alter its leadership.

With the many surprises 2020 has already brought forth and an unknown number of changes and/or hurdles still to be addressed, both the governing board and JPC opted to seek some degree of stability and each voted unanimously to retain their present leaders.

By popular demand, the JPC renamed Kim Skinner as Chairperson, Frances Luna as Vice-Chairperson and Jennifer Burns as Recording Secretary. Governing board members likewise supported the return of Greg D’Amour as Chairperson, Peggy (Cookie) Johnson as Vice-Chairperson and Patsy Barnett as board Secretary.

 

OTHER BOARD ACTION AND ITEMS

•Among actions addressed by the governing board July 22, was the approval of two board policy revisions tabled from their previous session, as well as a decision to table/postpone scheduling of their annual strategic planning session for three months. Due to uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 health emergency, members agreed it was likely best to delay the establishment of any long term goals. 

•Amid the present health crisis, phase-two construction of SVH’s new hospital facilities has continued. As of last week’s session’s, Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) David Faulkner said the project is still on target for a full completion of all planned construction by late August. This noted, the CEO suggested minor delays may yet be encountered and said such could easily push completion into early September. Nonetheless, the long-anticipated construction of a state-of-the-art hospital for Sierra County will soon be fully realized. 

•While not part of the new hospital construction, Faulkner did confirm that SVH’s kitchen is once again operational and preparing meals daily. After a year of problems, delays and general frustration, the once anticipated short and easy upgrade of the facility’s exhaust system has been completed.  

 

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