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Imperial Valley Healthcare District One Step Closer to Consolidate Medical Services of the Region

-Editorial

The formation of a unified healthcare district is looking to streamline services and improve access to medical care across the region. While the potential benefits are significant, some residents have raised concerns about the financial feasibility and implementation of such a large-scale project.

The Imperial Valley Healthcare District (IVHD) held a press conference on July 10 to discuss recent milestones and plans. In just a few months, the IVHD board has made notable progress through active collaboration with partners, focusing on the unification of the region’s healthcare system, the implementation of AB 918, and addressing other urgent healthcare priorities.

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) praised the IVHD’s leadership and significant strides at their most recent board meeting. On June 13, the board took action on several key milestones, including the establishment of voting districts, dissolvent dates for Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, and approving a letter of intent for acquiring El Centro Regional Medical Center.

The IVHD signed a letter of intent with El Centro Regional Medical Center to acquire the hospital and all of its assets before November 5, 2024. The Healthcare District passed resolutions asking the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to dissolve Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District on Oct. 1 and Pioneers Memorial on Dec. 1 of this year. 

Assembly Member Garcia introduced Assembly Bill 918 on February 14, 2023. The bill was approved by the governor on October 10, 2023, adding Chapter 11 (commencing with Section 34299.5) to Division 23 of the Health and Safety Code, forming the Imperial Valley Healthcare District.

The IVHD Board of Directors includes representatives from the Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, the Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District, a resident of El Centro, a resident from the unincorporated areas of Seeley or Ocotillo (or a County Board of Supervisor representing that area), a Quechan Tribe member, a resident of Imperial, and a resident of Holtville.

The initial Board of Directors will recommend a permanent funding source mechanism to be presented and approved by the voters in the November 2024 election. The deadline to submit a ballot measure to the County of Imperial is August 9, 2024, by 5:00 p.m., according to the Registrar of Voters.

Until both the Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District are dissolved, Heffernan Memorial will hold a temporary clerical role to the IVHD Board of Directors, providing administrative support, and financial resources, setting up meetings, and ensuring a smooth transfer of existing healthcare districts into the IVHD.

The initial Board of Directors must finalize the terms of acquiring El Centro Regional Medical Center by November 5, 2024, which involves negotiating terms, reviewing financial feasibility studies, and determining the integration of the hospital’s assets and liabilities into the IVHD. The City of El Centro will negotiate in good faith but is not required to sell the hospital to the district.

The Board of Directors is required to recommend dissolution dates for Heffernan Memorial and Pioneers Memorial to LAFCO, with these districts to be dissolved by January 1, 2025.

IVHD Board President Katherine Burnworth stated, “IVHD’s remarkable journey towards achieving milestones is a testament to the unwavering determination, collaborative spirit, and resilience of every board member. Each milestone attained reflects the collective efforts and steadfast commitment of our board, as we strive to construct a healthcare system that truly serves the needs of the Imperial Valley residents. These accomplishments serve as a powerful motivation for our board to implement AB 918 and propel us forward in our mission.”

Some residents oppose this merger and have raised concerns about the financial implications of forming a new healthcare district. According to them, El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC) holds over $240 million in debt and is not seismically compliant, as reported by the California Department of Healthcare Access and Information. They highlight that ECRMC operates at a deficit, which could lead to an increase in its debt. In contrast, Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District (PMHD) has $118 million in debt and estimates an additional $80 million to achieve seismic compliance. Despite these obligations, PMHD operates at a profit, they say, and its total debt, including the cost of seismic compliance, is significantly lower than ECRMC’s. They argue that the proposed merger of ECRMC and PMHD would create a healthcare district burdened with over $400 million in debt, potentially jeopardizing all healthcare operations within the Valley.

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