PT clinic save was cooperation over confrontation

By Bill Rozak December 17, 2008 03:05 pm

To the casual reader, saving the Groveland Physical Therapy clinic might have seemed like an effortless, fortuitous combination of luck and coincidence: A private provider came forward to assume operation from Tuolumne County, and the Board of Supervisors found enough cash to keep the clinic running until she could take over.

So one more bullet dodged, a sigh of relief, and life south of the river goes on?


Well, not if you’re on the Groveland Health Advisory Council. For its members invested hundreds of volunteer hours to save the clinic, which every month serves scores of rehab clients who would otherwise have to drive to Sonora or the Central Valley.

The advisory panel was formed several years ago to enhance medical services in Groveland, but last year the members found themselves with a different mission.

“Saving what we already had,” said Karen Serrett, one of a committee core group that led the campaign to save Groveland PT. Joining in the effort were Gloria Marler, Cheryl Giles and Liz Mattingly.

What Serrett calls a healthcare “tsunami” began to swell when the money-losing Tuolumne General Hospital closed in 2007. The county was now out of the picture and Sonora Regional Medical Center was dealing with a sudden increase in demand due to TGH’s demise.

Joint discussions with the Groveland council on future improvements, such as a full-service medical clinic, ground to a halt.

By mid-2007, county supervisors announced plans to close the suddenly-orphaned PT center. But after more than 200 South County residents packed Groveland Community Hall to protest, the board voted to keep the clinic open for another year while a private operator was sought.

This year the Health Advisory Council got involved, working closely with the county staff in putting together a financial profile of the clinic to distribute to potential operators. Serrett said she contacted all local physical therapists this spring without success.

Meanwhile, the clock kept ticking and this June the board again considered closure. But clinic supporters got a six-month extension, and the Groveland council shifted into high gear. “We decided to market it ourselves,” said Serrett.

A notice titled, “Yosemite Business Opportunity” was posted on a physical therapy Web site. A thousand postcards were sent to PT businesses throughout Northern California. Packets were assembled describing the clinic and the community. Using county figures, a detailed profit-and-loss statement was assembled.

With Julie Tanaka, a Monterey-based therapist looking to move to the mountains, the committee hit pay dirt. “It was destiny,” said Serrett.

But it wasn’t easy: Each of the four core council members have since May put in about 10 hours a week of volunteer work, which they estimate amounts to “a pro bono contribution of well over $150,000.”

The county did its part, securing Medicare and Medi-Cal provider numbers — and resulting cash payments — for the physical therapy clinic and, most recently, securing $25,000 to keep it operating until Tanaka takes over in March.

Serrett sees the successful campaign an example of how citizen involvement and work with government can work.

“It’s a wonderful example of what can be done with a ‘yes we can’ spirit,” said Serrett. “We should send it off to Barack Obama.” 

Indeed, it is a triumph of cooperation over confrontation and a lesson in how things can be done during the tough economic times to come. All involved in the effort should be commended for their dedication and persistence.