Sonora Regional's work easing a tough transition

May 16, 2007 12:00 am

It's all part of a nightmare that's probably haunted doctors, nurses and patients ever since county supervisors decreed that Tuolumne General Hospital would close on July 1:

The wait at Sonora Regional Medical Center's swamped emergency room reaches three hours as displaced TGH patients overwhelm the staff. Many are then sent to hospitals in Modesto and Stockton as SRMC's rooms are quickly filled. Surgeries are canceled, delayed or scheduled elsewhere as demand exceeds doctors.

Well, it may be time to wake up from that bad dream.

Although making no promises, SRMC is working nonstop to make the July transition as smooth as possible:

• It is hiring 172 new employees, many of them former Tuolumne General Hospital workers.

• It will fully staff all of its six acute-care and 56 medical-surgical beds in anticipation of coming transfers and new patients.

• It is studying TGH patient and ER loads with an eye toward accommodating the overflow.

• It may add a portable CT scanner pending completion of a new $6 million imaging center to open in September.

• It has taken over TGH's Family Health and Wellness Clinic and is working hard to staff, equip and relocate it to an Adventist Health-owned building on Forest Road by July 1. Included will be a walk-in Prompt Care clinic aimed at further easing the ER load at SRMC.

• It is analyzing the addition of 20 more beds, approved when the medical center opened in 2004. This project alone would cost $5 million.

Fluctuating patient loads make it impossible to guarantee adequate staffing, at least at the beginning of the post-TGH area. But one thing now obvious is that Sonora Regional Medical Center does not take its new role casually.

The investment it is making is in the millions and the time it is spending on the project is in the thousands of hours. Run by Adventist Health, a nonprofit corporation, SRMC obviously believes that accepting Tuolumne General's patients and taking over a number of its operations will both benefit the community and make financial sense.

No, Tuolumne General Hospital won't be saved. And not all its patients and staff are likely to be happy with anything Sonora Regional Medical Center comes up with to fill the void.

Even SRMC President Lary Davis conceded there are "a lot of unknowns" in the process and stopped short of guaranteeing there would be no waits or inconvenience.

But the bottom line is that county supervisors had no choice but to close Tuolumne General Hospital. The millions of dollars it was losing annually would have made the move necessary even had SRMC been a less willing, less able partner in the transition.

That the medical center is instead doing all it can to fill the health care gaps left by TGH is something we should appreciate.

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Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.