Suver reports on expanding hospital services

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Suver reports on expanding  hospital servicesWhile the primary role of a hospital is the provision of vital health careservices, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital — as the second largest employer in the valley and a resource to the rural communities along the Eastern Sierra — has also emerged as an important economic engine for the Indian Wells Valley.

RRH CEO Jim Suver delivered an engaging presentation at the recent IWV Economic Outlook Conference, outlining expansion of the hospital’s campus and services while identifying some of the challenges ahead for health care as an industry.

One of the keys to maintaining a thriving hospital, he said, is achieving a sufficient population growth to support services.

Since Suver took over in 2009, the hospital has acquired $105.2 million in assets. Net assets have climbed from $49.8 million to $78.2 million. Perhaps most importantly to our rural population, the number of full-time active physicians has risen from 19 to 35.

The correlation between growth in RRH and in the community serves as model of the flywheel effect — with the expansion of services helping to recruit new residents, and the addition of new residents ensuring the necessary volume to support hospital programs.

One of the changing dynamics in modern health care is the evolving role that hospitals and clinics play in creating community wellness. RRH is no longer accountable for only the quality of care delivers inside the hospital walls. The institution is also concerned with the lifestyle trends in the populations it serves.

“So now we are accountable for keeping people well — which means we will thrive based on our ability to keep people out of the hospital.”

To that end, the hospital has ramped up its outreach to some of the most vulnerable people in the community through education and programs that focus on healthy living.

“We have recruited enough physicians … said no hospital CEO ever,” said Suver. Despite significant strides in bringing additional professionals to the valley, RRH has remained aggressive about bringing additional providers to the area.

The estimated cost of recruitment is $500,000 per physician. However, Suver noted, with the addition of each physician, an estimated five additional jobs are created within the community.

“They say if you make it two years in Ridgecrest, you’ll probably stay here the rest of your life,” he said. “And we are seeing a lot of them choose to stay.”

Upcoming expansion projects include a $25-million renovation of the emergency department.

The addition of a mental-health-crisis-stabilization clinic will have eight adult and four pediatric beds to allow observation, skilled nursing services and psychiatric consultations through telemedicine. That treatment option will also reduce strain on law enforcement, which now transports scores of individuals in need of treatment to the nearest center in Bakersfield.

RRH has also formally partnered with the UC Davis Cancer Care Network to bring oncology services to residents of the IWV — as well as neighboring rural communities.

These additional services address the top four areas identified in a 2016 needs assessment — substance abuse, alcohol abuse, cancer and mental health.

One of the most significant challenges on the horizon for healthcare providers is the unknown impacts of a repeal or amendment to the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Suver said that some 20-30 percent of hospitals nationwide are in the red. “We are just a penstroke away from going from profitability to $10 million in losses a year if that ACA support goes away.”

Additional reporting on anticipated impacts of continuing healthcare reforms will be featured in next week’s edition of the News Review.

Story First Published: 2017-03-10