At a special meeting of the Northern Inyo Hospital District Board held Friday, March 24, Interim NIHD CEO Lionel “Chad” Chadwick acknowledged that the District has drawn down its reserve account by $28 million over the past two years.
NIHD’s reserve now holds just $14 million.
Chadwick said, “Bondholders are concerned about our financial position.”
Board Chair Mary Mae Kilpatrick added later, “The hospital is on the wings of a bankruptcy … We’re in deep doo-doo.”
With that as backdrop, the bulk of the meeting was spent debating whether or not the Hospital should replace an independent contractor who costs $450,000/year with an independent contractor who’d cost $220,000/year.
The independent contractor in question is Dr. Kevin Efros, an anesthesiologist, whose contract is expiring, with a CRNA [Nurse Anesthetist] whom Chadwick believes can do the same job.
“Both [an Anesthesiologist and a CRNA] can provide unsupervised anesthesia services,” said Chadwick.
Several physicians then got up to defend Dr. Efros – it felt like a Kenny Chesney song.
“You mess with one man you got us all.”
Chief of Orthopedics Dr. Bo Loy urged the NIHD Board to let the existing Anesthesiology group (which consists of Dr. Efros, Dr. Paul Kim, and Drs. Jennifer and Grant Meeker) figure out a plan to save the hospital money without removing one.
Dr. Sierra Bourne said staff is fearful for their own careers and that the proposal is damaging for morale.
Drs. Jeanine Arndal and Marty Kim both questioned whether the Hospital would find a CRNA for that price ($220,000). The idea we’ll get a provider to come in and take calls at fifty cents on the dollar is a stretch, expressed Arndal. And will create conflict within the department.
*The Sheet has since made a public records request regarding the last time NIHD employed CRNA’s for anesthesia services. A source told the newspaper that the former CRNAs were paid approximately $400,000/year.
Dr. Robin Cromer-Tyler said the anesthesiology department has been the best she’s seen it over the past six months. Why mess with a good thing?
Dr. Mark Robinson opined that the hospital shouldn’t punish Efros just because his contract happens to be up. “He has done a good job. Don’t punish that,” said Robinson.
During his public comment, Efros expressed gratitude at the support from the community. He said he was recruited here and ultimately put together the current team of providers from scratch. Of that team, Efros said he is the most highly qualified and experienced.
He added that he would’ve gladly taken a $25,000 to $50,000 pay cut alongside his peers. “And I stand by this offer.”
The Sheet followed up this week and asked Mr. Chadwick if the other Anesthesiologists in the group had also offered to take a pay cut. “That’s not an offer on the table,” was his reply.
During Board discussion, the most notable, unguarded comment was made by new board member Melissa Best-Baker, who said, “I wasn’t aware when I came on the board about the financial issues.”
Board member Jody Veenker said to Dr. Efros, in reference to the community support, “I hope this makes you feel good.”
She may as well have said, “Hey, I’m sorry you lost the lottery and are about to be stoned to death.”
A couple of odds and ends.
In regard to last week’s TBID renewal update, one reader said, “Why should Mammoth Mountain have a 40% vote if they don’t pay tax on season passes under the pretext that the passes are sold out of Denver where the company is incorporated? That doesn’t make Mammoth Mountain a local business.”
On Tuesday, Ashley Helms gave an update on the Bishop Airport to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. Helms said the airport is still expecting to achieve 10,000 enplanements this year (a threshold which earns a $1 million FAA grant) despite losing 25% of its available winter seats this season (due to a cancellation of the LAX route).
Overall flight cancellation rates have hovered around 5% for both years of winter air service.
She credited the IKON pass for the strength in the Denver market. Approximately 1/3 of those flying on the Denver flight originate from Denver while 2/3 of the passengers connect from more distant central and eastern U.S. locations.
Helms gamely parroted the standard line that commercial airline subsidy should only be needed when a route is getting established and then will go away over time.
Supervisor Jeff Griffiths called the bluff, asking, “Has this ever actually happened?”
Yes, replied Helms. In other markets.
She predicted air subsidy numbers for 2022-2023 would come in well below the cap.
In other Board news, Inyo Supervisors approved an additional $1.5 million for the 2022-2023 road budget for emergency repairs of Whitney Portal Rd. and Lower Rock Creek Road. There was no discussion.