Prime Healthcare offers to 'save' St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley from closing

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Desert Valley Hospital and the Prime Healthcare Foundation have offered to fund the seismic retrofitting of Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley.
Desert Valley Hospital and the Prime Healthcare Foundation have offered to fund the seismic retrofitting of Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley.

Dr. Prem Reddy’s Prime Healthcare Foundation could play the financial savior for Providence St. Mary Medical Center and hospital in Apple Valley.

The 65-year-old St. Mary, which will not meet future seismic building requirements in 2030, is slated for closure once the new Providence/Kaiser Permanente hospital opens in Victorville, the Daily Press reported.

Fred Ortega, the senior director of government relations at Prime Healthcare, said the foundation is willing to “save” St. Mary by contributing “at least $100 million” to upgrade and modernize the medical center seismically.

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In June, Providence officials said the aging 212-bed medical facility would shutter because it did not meet the state’s more stringent seismic requirements expected to take effect by the end of the decade.

Providence executives also remarked that bringing the St. Mary building into seismic compliance would be financially and operationally infeasible.

But Ortega’s comments, delivered on Nov. 23, seemed to inject hope into Apple Valley residents who feared they would soon lose their hospital and emergency services.

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Ortega’s comments came during a nearly two-hour online public meeting, which the California Department of Justice hosted to receive public feedback regarding the proposed control and change in the governance of St. Mary.

The virtual meeting was part of California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s review as Providence works to close St. Mary and partner with Permanente to open a new 260-bed hospital on Amargosa Road, south of Bear Valley Road.

During the meeting, host Deputy AG Lily Weaver fielded public comments by video conferencing, phone, online text or physical letter.

“Our mission of saving hospitals leads us to offer support or partnership to the Town of Apple Valley, Providence and all stakeholders to maintain St. Mary as an acute care hospital at its current location,” Ortega said.

St. Mary would continue to offer 24-hour emergency and essential services such as surgical and labor and delivery, he continued.

Prime Healthcare proposed involvement with St. Mary would preserve jobs and allow the medical center to continue offering emergency/essential services in a more efficient footprint as more services move to outpatient and home settings, Ortega said.

After the meeting, Councilman Scott Nassif told the Daily Press he was “optimistic and pleased” by Prime Healthcare’s willingness to support St. Mary.

“I’m intrigued by Prime Healthcare’s financial offer, which sounds great on the surface, but right now, there are more questions than answers,” Nassif said. “But I am excited to see that someone sees the market value in continuing to provide medical services in Apple Valley.”

In 2006, Dr. Reddy founded the Prime Healthcare Foundation, which includes 14 hospitals across the nation and has over $1 billion in available assets, Ortega said.

The foundation’s website said the focus of Dr. Reddy's work has been to save failing hospitals, turn them into thriving community assets and give back to the community, gifting hundreds of millions of dollars to causes related to healthcare and caring for others.

Prime Healthcare has invested approximately $1.7 billion since 2005 on capital improvements and equipment to modernize and improve its hospital facilities and has provided more than $9 billion in charity and uncompensated care since 2010.

The meeting

During the meeting, community leaders, elected officials and residents shared their concerns, hopes and warnings about the Providence-Kaiser partnership.

Nearly every commenter voiced their support for constructing the new hospital, especially those residing west of Interstate 15 in Phelan, Pinon Hills, and Victorville.

Some residents also suggested the construction of a fourth hospital in the High Desert.

Apple Valley Mayor Curt Emick, Councilman Nassif, and Apple Valley Fire Protection District Chief Ken Harrison were among the first to speak.

Emick told Weaver that the Town Council submitted a “letter of concern” to the DOJ regarding the project in September.

Some of the concerns include losing the only emergency medical facility for the approximately 75,000 residents of Apple Valley plus thousands more in the surrounding area, Emick said.

"Simply put, if it were to close, lives will be lost," the letter said. "Even with emergency lights and sirens, paramedics will have a difficult time getting patients to one of the hospitals across the Mojave River in Victorville."

Another concern voiced by Emick is the possibility that a future earthquake could damage bridges that span the Mojave River, which would prevent the transport of patients from Apple Valley to hospitals in Victorville.

“In addition to the medical reasons that draw our main concern, the closure of this facility will cause tremendous economic harm to our community,” Emick said. “Should the facility close, we will lose thousands of jobs, which will have a deep impact on the economic vitality of the entire northwest portion of Apple Valley.”

The Town Council requests that St. Mary “remain open in some capacity” with emergency services should the attorney general approve the partnership between Providence and Kaiser, Emick said.

“This can be accomplished through continued operation by Providence or through the sale of the hospital or partnership with another medical provider who will keep it open,” Emick said.

Nassif, who also serves on the St. Mary Medical Foundation Board of Directors, echoed Emick’s statements and said public safety was his primary concern.

The councilman shared his account of having a unique cardiac emergency the morning of Sept. 15, 2016, which ultimately required a nearly nine-hour open heart surgery the same day.

“I often tell people if St. Mary hadn’t been where it’s at and did what they did, I wouldn't be here today to talk about it,” Nassif said. “I only address that because I think it’s important that we keep in mind those services that Apple Valley and its residents east of Apple Valley have come to rely on for emergency services.”

Chief Harrison emphasized the fire district’s support of the new hospital and encouraged all stakeholders to consider the increased response times for emergency vehicles to travel from Apple Valley to emergency medical facilities in Victorville.

Harrison believes only a portion of St. Mary needs seismic upgrading, which does not include the emergency room, he said.

The chief said the complete closure of St. Mary would “seriously compromise public safety from the emergency responder perspective, which is his main concern.

If St. Mary was to shutter, the average current response times of 15 to 20 minutes — from a typical scene in Apple Valley to the St. Mary's emergency room— could increase by 15 to 45 minutes from Apple Valley to the new hospital, Harrison said.

New hospital

Kaiser and Providence officials initially estimated a 2026 date for the hospital's opening that would be on 98-acres along and west of Interstate 15 in Victorville.

The new hospital is slated to open by 2028, according to a filing with the state.

Kaiser and Providence expect to spend up to $1 billion on their joint hospital, according to an Aug. 5 report from Kaiser Health News. Prior cost estimates for the new hospital came in at $750 million.

A filing with the state attorney general's office disclosed Kaiser would put up 30% of the capital needed to build the hospital, with Providence funding 70%.

Daily Press reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227 or RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.

This article originally appeared on Victorville Daily Press: Prime Healthcare offers to rescue Apple Valley hospital from closure

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