(Imperial, CA) — In response to Imperial County’s urgent healthcare crisis, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) passed AB 918, legislation creating a united healthcare district for the region. After months of focused stakeholder discussions, community input and policy review, the legislation awaits Governor Newsom's signature.
“Our medically underserved area cannot risk the loss of a hospital and disruptions to care. The closure of any hospital will overburden hospitals in surrounding cities and counties, resulting in a devastating cycle of inadequate healthcare across a wide geographical region. Imperial Valley is facing an urgent healthcare crisis; lives are on the line, and we needed to act,” said Assemblymember Garcia.
“We dedicated our efforts to engaging local stakeholders and community members throughout this legislative process to ensure AB 918’s language reflects community direction and priorities."
Throughout the legislative process, Assemblymember Garcia remained hopeful that Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District would participate with others in stakeholder engagement and encouraged them to submit language early on. AB 918 initially intended to expand Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, but the legislation needed to explore other options due to the lack of response and communication from Pioneers.
Dozens of individual and stakeholder meetings were held with Pioneers leadership, urging their input on amendments. Efforts were made to address concerns every step of the way, and a substantial number of amendments were incorporated into the bill per their commentary.
The following clarifications have been provided in response to misinformation from a recent Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District press release.
Creating a True Singular System
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 community can be reassured that 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.
Additionally, El Centro Regional Medical Center submitted a letter to the legislature clarifying their position by stating, “the City of El Centro is fully committed to engaging in sincere negotiations with the representatives of the new district. We aim to facilitate the transfer of assets and assumption of liabilities without payment to the City and we are prepared to undertake all requisite measures to ensure the smooth transition of ECRMC to the Imperial Healthcare District.”
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 our 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 is able to 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.
Interruption in Healthcare
AB 918’s primary motivation was to prevent interruption to healthcare and ensure delivery of healthcare services. Health and Safety Code Division 2, Chapter 2, Section 1272 states that the Department of Public Health must “Complete its evaluation and approve or deny the application within 100 days of receiving it.” Additionally, the Imperial Valley Healthcare District board has until July 1, 2024 to dissolve both the Pioneers Memorial and Heffernan Memorial Healthcare Districts, giving them ample time to apply for any licenses and certifications that cannot be automatically transferred.
If needed, Assemblymember Garcia has committed to authoring additional legislation or timeline extensions needed to further ensure the success of the Imperial Valley Healthcare District.
Initial start-up costs are minimal to nonexistent. Until both healthcare districts are dissolved, the only potential anticipated start-up costs would be the ones related to ensuring public meetings take place for the community to listen to the findings of the financial feasibility studies and provide public comments. The Imperial Valley Healthcare District board will determine when financial investments are necessary during the transition period.
Partners were asked who would be available to assist with start-up clerical needs. Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District agreed to serve in a temporary clerical role.
Initial Interim Board Representation
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.