California hospital CEO addresses its 'poor image'

El Centro (Calif.) Regional Medical Center had a rough 2023. Recently, its CEO spoke out to address community concerns. 

In January 2023, Healthcare Management Partners, the Nashville, Tenn.-based consulting firm appointed to advise the hospital, terminated its agreement. The hospital's CEO and CFO, both directors of the consulting firm, resigned in short order. 

The hospital — an affiliate of UC San Diego Health — named Pablo Velez, PhD, RN, to the helm in April. ECRMC received a $28 million zero-interest loan from the state in August and continued to report financial distress through the year's end. 

Dr. Velez spoke out on ECRMC's turbulent year in a Feb. 2 letter to the local newspaper, the Holtville Tribune.

"Over the last year, constant attacks and scrutinizing over the financial position of ECRMC have portrayed a poor image of the hospital," Dr. Velez said. "I want to alleviate community concerns and provide the community with accurate and reliable information." 

In the letter, Dr. Velez wrote that the hospital "is [financially] stable at this point." He claimed that the debt was incurred from statewide measures that required all buildings to comply with new earthquake regulations. 

The hospital has also "right sized" by decreasing the number of care providers to better align with the number of patients seen post-COVID. ECRMC is limiting its use of travel nurses and unnecessary overtime, improving contract management and creating new programs and services, according to Dr. Velez.

Throughout Dr. Velez's tenure, ECRMC and the city of El Centro have advocated for a bill that would consolidate three health districts in Imperial County into a single district. One of the other players, Brawley, Calif.-based Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, has argued against the bill, claiming the project is not feasible or fundable. 

Dr. Velez concluded his letter by reiterating support for the consolidation measure. 

"We all need to preserve our precious healthcare resources; consolidation of both hospitals is good for the community so that we reduce expenses and improve healthcare in our Imperial Valley," he wrote. 

Read the full letter here.

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