Tulare's hospital closed last year. Now Visalia's hospital is offering to run it

Tulare Local Health Care District is seeking a partner to reopen and operate Tulare Regional Medical Center.
Tulare Local Health Care District is seeking a partner to reopen and operate Tulare Regional Medical Center. Fresno Bee file

Kaweah Delta Health Care District in Visalia has sent a letter to the board of directors of the health care district that owns Tulare Regional Medical Center offering to manage the now-closed hospital and help get it open again.

Although Kaweah Delta can operate the hospital, it cannot afford to bring $22 million to the table as asked by Tulare Local Healthcare District, said Kaweah Delta Chief Executive Officer Gary Herbst.

The Tulare hospital closed in October when the new board of directors got into a legal dispute with hospital contract manager Healthcare Conglomerates Associates and declared bankruptcy.

The closure left the community without a hospital and put hundreds of employees out of work, and the new hospital tower remains unfinished.

Since the closure, the board has been seeking a white knight to come to the rescue. It may be close to finding one.

The district last month issued a "request for proposals" seeking partners to reopen and manage the 112-bed hospital. Kaweah Delta is one of three entities to show interest, said Tulare board president Kevin Northcraft.

Besides Kaweah, the others are Dignity Health, which owns 39 hospitals, most of them Catholic; and Adventist Health, a not-for-profit health care organization that owns 20 hospitals, including in Hanford.

Community Medical Centers, which had shown interest, told Tulare Local Health Care District last month it had too many obligations in the Fresno area to help out.

A big stumbling block to reopening appears to be the $22 million the district said it needs to reopen. The Legislature did not act on a request to add that amount to the state budget to help the hospital reopen.

Still, "we haven't given up hope," Northcraft said.

Northcraft said the board of directors has declared an emergency in hopes of qualifying for emergency funds from the state.

"The best option is to get a partner to get us open," he said. A reopened hospital would operate well in the black, he said.

On June 27, the board will consider the request for proposals responses.

"Our goal is to have at least a tentative decision" about a potential partner, Northcraft said. If the arrangement involves leasing the hospital, the lease agreement must be approved by voters and that requires relatively quick action to get on the November ballot, Northcraft said.

But Kaweah Delta's Herbst said he believes the best option if Kaweah is chosen would be for Tulare, Kaweah Delta and possibly Sierra View Health Care District in Porterville to create a joint powers agreement and operate under that umbrella.

Kaweah Delta has no interest in using revenues that the Tulare hospital would earn to help Kaweah Delta, Herbst said. The Visalia hospital cares about providing quality health care for the region, he said; Kaweah Delta is seeing so many patients from Tulare that it is often short of hospital beds and wants to do everything it can to help Tulare Regional Medical Center reopen.

A possible stumbling block is the Oct. 28 deadline to reopen.

The Tulare board voluntarily suspended its license for one year but if it doesn't reopen by then, it must reapply for a license as if it were a new hospital. If necessary, the district will seek an extension, Northcraft said.

There's too much work to do to reopen by October, Herbst said.

"It's just going to take time," he said. "You can't just flick a switch."

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold
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