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Financial Woes Force Closure of Calif. Hospital

FRESNO, Calif. -- Kingsburg District Hospital in Kingsburg, Calif., -- which survived a bankruptcy filing 10 years ago -- will close its emergency department at midnight because of financial problems, officials said Wednesday.

It's the second time the 35-bed hospital has closed its emergency room since 1989.

County officials said that the closure, while a loss for the community, should have minimal impact on local emergency services. While Kingsburg District saw 5,399 patients in its emergency department last year, only 224 came by ambulance, the hospital said in a statement.

"The majority of Kingsburg's emergency responses go to Selma Community Hospital," said Daniel Lynch, director of emergency medical services for Fresno County.

Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association, said emergency-room closures are becoming all too common.

"Hospitals all over the state are struggling, both small and large," she said. "We have had 71 emergency rooms close in California in the last 10 years."

Emerson said hospital emergency rooms are expensive to operate 24 hours a day. "And under federal law, anyone who walks into an ER must be provided care, whether they can pay for it or not," she said.

Doug Skubitz, the hospital's chief executive, was unavailable Wednesday. Hospital board members also could not be reached.

Lynch said he learned of the impending closure Tuesday just before 5 p.m. when someone from the hospital placed a call to his office.

"It was a surprise because we really didn't have any knowledge there were any issues at the hospital," he said. "They weren't on our radar."

Lynch's office is responsible for directing ambulance traffic in Fresno County and is notified of changes that could affect emergency services for patients.

He said he's worried that with such short notice, some patients may show up at the Kingsburg emergency room in the next few days unaware of the closure. He said the hospital has told him that it plans to assign a nurse to the emergency room for 30 days to deal with the scenario.

Lynch said Selma Community could see a spike in the number of walk-in emergency-room patients, which last year at Kingsburg District Hospital was more than 5,175, or about 14 patients per day.

Christine Pickering, spokeswoman for Selma Community, said the hospital -- about 8 miles from Kingsburg -- is "confident we can handle any [patient] increases."

Kingsburg hospital officials notified the California Department of Public Health about the closure as well as Fresno County's Department of Community Health on Tuesday, Lynch said.

Don Pauley, Kingsburg city manager, said the hospital's financial problems gave administrators few options.

He said he and the mayor met with hospital officials more than a week ago to discuss the issue.

"They said the situation was such that nothing we [the city] could offer could pull them out of this problem," he said.

He said hospital officials are planning to offer urgent-care services in the emergency department so that patients in the community will still have somewhere to go for noncritical care.

The reporter can be reached at tcorrea@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6378.

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