A California hospital closes its doors: ‘A great loss’

Madera Community Hospital, a 106-bed facility in central California, filed for bankruptcy and shut down. Carmela Coyle, CEO of the California Hospital Association, warns that others are at risk of closure.

Two years ago, Madera Community Hospital celebrated its 50th anniversary, with hospital and community leaders praising the staff for its service and dedication.

This month, the hospital cared for its last patient. Karen Paolinelli, Madera’s CEO, said the hospital was filing for bankruptcy Jan. 3 and closing its doors.

“This is a great loss to this community,” Paolinelli said in a press release.

Madera had 106 acute care beds, a 16-room emergency department and an intensive care unit with 10 beds. The hospital closed its emergency department on Dec. 30, and all other services on Jan. 3.The hospital’s clinics are set to close Jan. 10.

Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, said residents in Madera County, based in the center of the Golden State, will now face much longer commutes to get to another hospital. She wrote about the impact of the hospital’s closure last week.

“The hospital’s bankruptcy and closure are devastating for Madera County,” Coyle wrote. “People who relied on the hospital for emergency care will now have to travel as far away as Fresno, nearly 30 miles from the city of Madera.”

Madera also operated a rural health clinic for farm workers, who will lose access to basic healthcare workers, she said.

Other California hospitals could suffer a similar fate, Coyle fears.

“Sadly, there could be more cases like this in the coming months and years,” she wrote.

Hospitals around the country struggled financially in 2022 as they faced higher expenses, even as federal aid meant to help hospitals in the COVID-19 pandemic ran out. More than half of America’s hospitals were expected to finish the year with negative margins, according to Kaufman Hall, a healthcare consulting firm. Kevin Holloran, senior director at Fitch Ratings, said 2022 was “one of the worst years ever in healthcare,” and he projected hospitals would face a bumpy 2023.

Even accounting for federal COVID-19 aid to hospitals, California hospitals have suffered $12 billion in losses during the pandemic, according to a Kaufman Hall analysis

Rural hospitals are facing an especially daunting outlook. Since 2010, more than 130 rural hospitals have closed.

More than 600 rural hospitals, nearly 30% of America’s rural hospitals, are at risk of closing in the near future, according to the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform. Over 200 hospitals are at immediate risk of closure, the center projected.

While hospitals across the nation are struggling, California is facing obstacles beyond the economic landscape, Coyle said. California lawmakers and state officials have imposed roadblocks to the consolidation of hospitals, making it harder for health systems that could potentially throw a lifeline to struggling facilities, she said.

Trinity Health, the nonprofit Catholic hospital appeared to be poised to acquire Madera, and California Attorney General Rob Bonta approved the acquisition, the Fresno Bee reported.

However, Trinity, which operates Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, said it couldn’t proceed with the acquisition due to some conditions required by the California attorney general, the Fresno Bee reported.

The closure of Madera Community Hospital should serve as a warning sign to California officials, Coyle said.

“If state and federal leaders do not respond quickly to the crisis facing hospitals, even more Californians will find themselves without a local health care safety net when emergencies strike,” she wrote.