After months of anticipation about the future of healthcare in Imperial County, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 918 which will create a new healthcare district in the region.
The Governor announced the signing of the bill on Oct. 8.
“This legislation was introduced in response to Imperial Valley’s urgent healthcare crisis and at the urging of local county, city, and healthcare leaders who agreed that we must unify our healthcare system to ensure the financial stability of our hospitals and save lives. AB 918’s passage and the distressed hospital loan funding we secured sets us up to achieve the community’s vision for one united healthcare district,” Garcia said in a statement to Beyond Borders Gazette.
AB 918 creates one integrated healthcare system for Imperial Valley. It has been questioned if a true singular system can exist without legally requiring El Centro Regional Medical Center to enter. The City of El Centro is committed to being a willing participant in this conversation and is prepared to transfer ownership of the hospital to the Imperial Valley Healthcare District without payment. In the unlikely event of the non-immediate acquisition of El Centro Regional Medical Center into the Imperial Valley Healthcare District, a united countywide healthcare district remains with the opportunity for El Centro Regional Medical Center to be acquired in the near future.
Residents of existing healthcare districts already support the existing hospitals and this legislation does not ask them to incur additional costs. The merger is intended to create combined cost savings by ensuring the financial sustainability of the new healthcare district, as permanent funding sources are considered and determined by the community.
Legislative action was taken to provide underserved hospitals at risk of closure across the state with relief. With support from the Governor, Assemblymember Garcia partnered with Assemblymember Esmeralda Soria, Assemblymember Jim Wood, and Senator Anna Caballero to create the Distressed Hospital Loan Program. In August, Assemblymember Garcia announced his success in securing $28 million each for El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District in zero-interest loans from the program. These loan funds may be utilized for the Imperial Valley Healthcare District.
Protecting access to healthcare services and job security are priorities in AB 918. This bill prevents substantial job loss in Imperial County by ensuring El Centro Regional Medical Center can keep its doors open and be acquired by the Imperial Valley Healthcare District. Without this legislation, El Centro Regional Medical Center is at risk of closure with a total of 850 jobs on the line. Additionally, this bill includes language that retains the collective bargaining agreements and retirement plans of El Centro Regional Medical Center employees.
The goal is to increase access to healthcare and that includes safeguarding and hopefully expanding jobs by working in partnership with local college and university partners on workforce development.
Amendments regarding the formation of the new district’s interim board were expanded to enhance equity and representation. This initial, interim board will serve temporarily, allowing time for board elections to be held. The inclusion of additional cities and areas in the county for this interim board resulted from suggestions made by locals throughout the legislative process. These changes aim to increase inclusivity and bring underserved areas not currently served by a healthcare district to the table, as well as tribal communities, as this new regional system is established. These efforts ensure equity as we move forward with the future of our healthcare system.
Garcia argued that the establishment of a countywide healthcare district will result in multi-millions of dollars in savings to the Imperial Valley Healthcare District through the coordination of medical services, combined economies of scale of the prior healthcare districts including, having a single governing body and hospital administration, clinical integration, unified contracting and supplies management and an integrated medical system. At the same time, people can expect these hospitals to qualify as the sole community hospital across two campuses, which would trigger an increase in Medicare reimbursement of several million dollars per year.
Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District will be dissolved, and their assets and responsibilities will be transferred to the Imperial Valley Healthcare District by January 1, 2025.
The Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District is to hold a temporary administrative role to IVHD which includes assistance in scheduling board and public meetings as well as any other administrative tasks associated with establishing a new healthcare district.