‘How can we make the pie bigger?’

Outlook on 2018: Part 2 in a series

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘How can we make  the pie bigger?’As the chapter closed on 2017, leaders in local government, education, health care and economic development reflect on the successes and defeats of the past year while identifying challenges and opportunities of the coming year. Watch for continuing installments of this series during January!

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Despite the passage of controversial healthcare reforms at the federal level, and potential threats to rural health care looming at the state level, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital had a banner year for expanding services in 2017 — highlighted by the opening of a cancer center and a crisis-stabilization clinic and hiring of several new practitioners.

While the tumultuous political and economic landscape has seen unparalleled closures, and loss of local control, for small regional health care institutions over the last decade, RRH has managed to navigate those same treacherous waters by aggressive restructuring — yielding significant improvements in access to local healthcare offerings.

But CEO Jim Suver, who has been at the helm of RRH since 2009, said the best chance of longterm survival not only for the hospital, but for all local agencies and services, is to increase the industrial base that contributes the necessary revenues sustaining the desired infrastructure and quality of life in our community.

Suver keeps a pulse on the overall financial well-being of the Indian Wells Valley through his service on the IWV Economic Development Corp. board. He and the rest of the board have been proactively building bridges throughout the community in an attempt to better understand the challenges that face the valley, while creating more efficient solutions to address them.

The consensus of these leaders, he said, is that local institutions are at the end of financial cuts and maneuverings — “What we all came away wondering was, ‘How can we make the pie bigger?’”

In the big picture, there are several indicators that our community is indeed growing — the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division has been hiring above and beyond the rate of attrition, the housing market has extremely low inventory and the school district is reporting its most sustained upward trend in enrollment since the 1990s.

For the hospital, a larger community means a higher volume of patients to support the necessary expansion of services.

RRH has also been fine-tuning its relationship with Cerro Coso Community College to build educational programs that can help fill the nationwide shortage of nursing and other skilled positions.

“That brings us to recruitment and retention,” said Suver. “Although recruitment can be a challenge, longterm retention is a much greater hurdle for those of us in remote areas.”

Part of that is the culture shock experienced by professionals unaccustomed to the rural lifestyle. Half of the two-pronged approach the hospital has used to address this problem is to help pay for continuing education of future pharmacists, nurses and pathologists. “To me, that’s a much better investment than paying a consultant to bring new people in.”

But outside recruitment remains the best option for certain skill sets, “which is why the hospital has made a priority of collaborating with the school district, the city, the EDC and other local partners — because the other side of retention is building up a high quality of life.”

In terms of expansion, Suver said he expects 2018 to be a quieter year. “But even with all the good things happening, we anticipate a degree of continuing uncertainty. Last year there were numerous attempts to repeal or replace health care reforms — which would have been devastating to us. There were ballot initiatives in the state that could have hurt us, there was the proposal of a single-payer system that no one knew how how to pay for, then there was the federal tax reform — which won’t help most people in California,” said Suver.

“One thing we want to do is spend more time educating our legislators about the realities and needs of rural health care, so we are not in constant ‘crisis-lobbying’ mode.”

The coming year will also bring a tighter budget, because of increased costs and declining funds.

“But we are stable and solid, and we always make sure we have adequate reserves,” he said.

“On the whole, I’m optimistic for a great 2018 in our community.”

Story First Published: 2018-01-12