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Unusual Deal Brokered By Community Activists Saves South Coast Obstetrics Unit From Budget Ax

It’s been a rough few weeks for Ventura County’s Health Care Agency. Facing a projected $19 million dollar budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, and as much as $40 million for the next budget year, some key cuts were proposed, including layoffs and the shutdown of Santa Paula Hospital's obstetrics unit. But, an unusual plan has saved it.

County officials say the number of births in the unit dropped from more than 350 in 2014 to just over 180 last year. They say the current rate of 10 or 11 deliveries a month means the unit isn’t financially sustainable, so the plan was to suspend operations as of June 30th.

The announcement of the OB shutdown prompted some community groups to rally.  Members of LULAC, Santa Paula Latino Town Hall, and Santa Clara Valley Together started meeting to try to come up with a different plan. An unusual effort came together.

A non-profit health care network based in Ventura County which effectively competes with the county for patients made a unique offer: Clinicas del Camino Real serves more than 100,000 people, and handles about 200 births a month. It offered to give the Santa Paula Hospital 10 deliveries a month, enough to get the OB unit back into the black. Clinicas CEO Roberto Juarez says the move is costing the health care provider money, but he’s willing to do it to help the community.

Dr. John Fankhauser is the new CEO of the Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital. He says the plan gives the facility a new chance, but they now have to get the word out to try to attract more parents. Because it’s smaller, Fankhauser says families get more personalized care. And, the hilltop hospital’s delivery rooms have scenic views of the Santa Clara River Valley.

As part of the bigger picture, officials say the County Health Care Agency reduced the number of planned layoffs to 67, but officials say they’ve been able to shift 45 of those people into other positions. They say they are still working to help the others affected.

Part of the bigger plan includes reviews and changes to things like billing practices and physician contracts. Community activists say they plan to remain involved in the process.

The deal was worked out last Friday, and announced on Monday. Because of staffing changes, officials say the facility will still need to temporarily close June 30th. The goal is to have the OB unit up and running August 1st.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.