Changes in services contemplated at Redwood Memorial Hospital

Mary Bullwinkel

Beacon Correspondent

The possibility of reduced services at Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna has many in the friendly city expressing serious concern. Addressing that concern at a recent Fortuna Chamber of Commerce Monday luncheon was Dr. David O'Brien, recently named president of St. Joseph and Redwood Memorial hospitals.

Dr. O'Brien acknowledged that changes were being contemplated but said no decisions would be made until "due diligence" is completed. He also acknowledged the level of support for the Fortuna hospital. "The unwavering commitment this community has for Redwood Memorial Hospital has been communicated quite clearly," he said.

One change being reviewed has to do with OB/GYN services, and the possibility of moving all such services from Redwood Memorial Hospital to St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka. "There has been an exodus of OB/GYN doctors," O'Brien said. "It is quite concerning and we need to find a solution, although a solution is elusive, complex, and not clear," he said. He noted that "some solutions are controversial and might require consolidation of programs."

Statistics and data are being reviewed regarding the number of births and the number of doctors required for providing those services. He said Redwood Memorial Hospital has approximately 375 births annually and St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka has approximately 675 births annually.

The Fortuna Chamber of Commerce is closely following this issue, and a community meeting is planned for an unspecified date in the near future.

"It's essential that our community be given the opportunity to understand what's being proposed for Redwood Memorial Hospital and to offer feedback," Fortuna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Erin Dunn said. "I am relieved to hear that they are slowing down the process of a possible consolidation of services."

The financial future of both hospitals is being reviewed. Dr. O'Brien spoke of existing cuts in health care services already approved, and additional proposed cuts as having an extremely adverse impact. He said over the next 10 years, Redwood Memorial Hospital could see a reduction of close to $15 million dollars in revenue, while the figure for St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka for the same ten year period is nearly $90 million.

"As a hospital administrator, I'm kind of nervous," he said, calling upcoming health care reform an "enormous challenge, especially for rural communities."

O'Brien did emphasize the support the Sisters of Orange have for providing health care in Fortuna and in Humboldt County.

"This is a particularly special place, where the sisters started their health care system 100 years ago," he said. "There is strong commitment to this area, and no talk of abandoning this community."

Photo by Mary Bullwinkel/Beacon

Dr. David O'Brien, President of St. Joseph Health System, Humboldt County spoke to Fortuna Chamber of Commerce members about possible changes to services offered at Redwood Memorial Hospital.