Fortuna: Redwood Memorial children, women’s health services at risk

Council votes to send letter seeking to extend state-mandate to 2026

The Fortuna City Council considered sending a letter of support to Attorney General Xavier Becerra seeking to extend an agreement over children’s and women’s health care services until 2026. (Google Maps)
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Fortuna voted unanimously to send a letter of support to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra seeking to keep obstetric and pediatric services at Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna.

The services were state-mandated as a condition of the approval of the merger between St. Joseph Health and Providence Health systems. Under the agreement, women and children’s health care services were required to be provided through June 2021.

Former Humboldt County Health Officer and current Redwood Memorial Chief of Staff Dr. Donald Baird requested the letter be sent to Becerra seeking to extend the deadline through June 2026.

Baird stated in a letter he sent to Becerra earlier this month that there was considerable cause for concern.

“I am noticing a clear pattern of systematic termination, loss, and reduction of services at Redwood Memorial Hospital through actions including benign neglect and strategic decisions to relocate and bolster those same services at St. Joseph Eureka Hospital despite the commitments agreed to in the (agreement between the hospital systems and the state).”

His letter goes on to outline areas where the hospital is not living up to the agreement including a lack of palliative care and mammography.

“At this point in time, I am concerned that pediatric and obstetric service lines are also imminently in jeopardy,” Baird’s letter states.

He said St. Joseph and Redwood Memorial hospitals plan to petition the attorney general “for early release from the stipulated requirements of this agreement as a direct result of mismanagement and strategies of benign neglect.”

A change.org petition garnered more than 700 signatures by Tuesday night of people seeking to save women’s and children’s services in the Eel River Valley.

A draft of the letter the city will send to Becerra points out Redwood Memorial Hospital serves a great portion of Southern Humboldt residents and making the trek to Eureka could be a matter of life and death.

“Direct access to services 30 minutes earlier in Fortuna will be life-saving for many residents,” the letter signed by Mayor Sue Long states.

The staff report lists potential travel times for residents from various areas. One example states Bridgeville residents would need 58 minutes to travel to St. Joseph Hospital, but it would only take 36 minutes to get to Redwood Memorial. Further out, Shelter Cove residents would have to travel for 1 hour and 52 minutes to Eureka versus 1 hour and 31 minutes to Fortuna’s hospital.

Long’s letter also points out that eliminating the services could be detrimental to recruiting efforts.

“Terminating the obstetric and pediatric services at Redwood Memorial Hospital will make a difficult recruiting environment even worse by limiting practice opportunities for young physicians who might otherwise relocate to our rural community,” Long states.

During public comment, Dr. Stephanie Dittmer, a Fortuna-based physician, said having the service available makes the area more attractive for recruitment.

“Within just the Open Door system, during the year that we recruited the five (family medicine obstetric physicians), we had 43 interviews in one cycle of doctors who want to move to Fortuna to take care of patients in the clinic and in the hospital,” she said. “Once you tap into that service line, and that type of service-minded physician, we really start to solve some of our staffing crises.”

“I strongly believe that this community really deserves high-quality family medicine physicians that work in conjunction with the specialty services we have here,” she added.

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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