Few hospitals in California are immune from the financial challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, years of Medi-Cal underfunding, and ongoing inflationary pressures. And hospitals in our region are no different. That’s why an agreement reached earlier this week that will allow UC San Diego Health to temporarily assume full operational, clinical, and financial management of El Centro Regional Medical Center comes just in the nick of time.
For Imperial County residents, this arrangement will help protect health care in the region and will — for now — prevent the hospital from the suffering the same fate as Madera County, which saw its only general acute care hospital close its doors in early January.
But despite the reprieve for El Centro, there are still many uncertainties. At the same time, other hospitals throughout the state are being forced to reduce services and weighing shutting down entirely. With so many California hospitals operating with negative margins — 51% are in the red — the need for help is urgent. That’s why the California Hospital Association is advocating for an immediate lifeline of $1.5 billion from the state budget to support hospitals that care for Medi-Cal patients. This would be followed by structural Medi-Cal rate increases, which would stabilize hospitals and help ensure that Californians with the greatest health needs have access to health care in their communities.
In a state where Medi-Cal rates have been frozen for a decade, increasing the amount that California pays your hospitals to care for Medi-Cal patients is not just important, but it’s vital to their survival. Especially when you consider that in Imperial County, about 80% of hospital patients receive care through governmental payers such as Medi-Cal and Medicare, and both programs reimburse hospitals less than the actual cost of providing care. Structural changes take on even more importance in our region, given that fact that the number of Medi-Cal beneficiaries in both Imperial and San Diego counties has grown exponentially in the past decade.
In recent weeks, our messages on the short- and long-term need for financial relief have garnered the attention of numerous media outlets throughout California. And we will continue to push this message as we work with lawmakers at all levels to ensure they understand the severity of the problem.