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‘We're feeling it already.’ Madera hospital’s closure triggers emergency in two counties

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Esther Quintanilla
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KVPR
Signs with the Madera Community Hospital logo are covered with tarps after the closure of the facility on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023.

FRESNO, Calif. – Fresno and Madera counties were thrown into a health emergency triggered in part by the closure of Madera Community Hospital this week.

Both counties were already experiencing a winter surge of patients with respiratory illnesses, and scaling back hospital visits and ambulance transfers. But after the Madera hospital shut its doors on Tuesday, one county was left wondering what happens now and the other tending to more patients than it could handle.

Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno is the only hospital in the region providing 24-hour critical care and surgery services – otherwise known as a Level 1 Trauma Center. According to staff, it was already stretched thin by the pandemic.

This week, however, nearly 80 patients waited to be seen in the emergency department. Low bed capacity in Fresno County coupled with more patients coming in from Madera led county supervisors to declare a health emergency for 30 days.

“We're in dire straits. Patients are suffering and it's really hard,” Dr. Danielle Campagne, the chief of Community Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department, said at the Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. “Madera…is going to be the tipping point for us.”

Campagne said the hospital was “blowing up” with patients, and dozens of beds filled the hallways. Doctors were caring for patients right on those beds, she said. Kaweah Health Medical Center in Visalia also reported receiving at least eight patients from Madera.

A state of emergency

A state of emergency had already been declared last week in Madera County by the sheriff’s office. The declaration was formally ratified by county supervisors this week.

Some Fresno County supervisors initially questioned declaring a local emergency. But they were convinced after hearing from emergency staff at Community Regional Medical Center. The supervisors agreed the closure was adding a strain on the already-strained hospitals.

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Esther Quintanilla
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KVPR
Emergency services at Madera Community Hospital closed on Jan. 3, 2023, amid a bankruptcy.

“The staff is really short handed and are reaching breakpoint levels,” said Supervisor Brian Pacheco, who served on the Board of Directors of Community Regional Medical Centers for nine years. Pacheco hoped the proclamation could get the attention of state and federal agencies, something Supervisor Nathan Magsig also sought.

“We're trying to make things easier and I think operating in a way that is amplifying the urgency,” Magsig said.

Magsig said state leaders should step in and offer financial support that could increase hospital staffing.

A local emergency declaration is typically a formal request to state representatives for financial assistance. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services reviews the request and sends it to the governor’s office. Gov. Gavin Newsom will then determine if Madera County would be eligible for state funding, according to local officials.

The state legislature reconvened for their new session on Thursday.

‘We’re feeling it already’

For many in the area, there is not much time to wait. Madera City Manager Arnoldo Rodriguez said there are a host of issues the county may face by losing its 100-bed general hospital, which opened in 1972. He said there is a particular concern for the commute time out of the county in the event of an emergency.

“I think our community is going to have a lot of challenges if we don't have some form of acute healthcare services reintroduced to the community,” Rodriguez said, adding “Thirty-five minutes in an emergency is a very long time.”

Rodriguez said elderly people will lose access to their doctors and worried for residents who lack transportation to medical services.

“I think the immediate [impact] is we're feeling it already. I think long-term, it's very difficult to quantify,” Rodriguez said.

But Rodriguez also anticipates economic impact to Madera, the largest city in the county, including a drop in population if residents who depend on quick access to medical services are forced to leave. He said residents may also experience losing out on work if they need to travel far distances to see a doctor.

Another immediate economic impact that is unclear is to the hospital’s laid off workforce. Madera Community Hospital reported having about 800 employees on staff as the largest private employer in Madera.

Rodriguez noted state representatives like Senator Anna Caballero and Assemblymember Esmeralda Soria have been responsive to concerns, but finding a sustainable solution for hospitals could take years.

He said although he has hope things could turn around in the future, “It's difficult seeing any light at the end of the tunnel on this one right now.”

Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with over 16 years of experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.
Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.