County Commissioner Sue Gold drew umbrage from her fellow commissioners and Curry Health Network’s Dr. Reginald Williams for sending a letter to the governor urging her to consider opening a satellite critical access hospital in Brookings.

Hospital officials have said doing that rather than transforming part of the Fifth Street Urgent Care Clinic into an emergency room (ER) as planned could hurt the bottom lines of Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach and Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City — and could be illegal.

Curry Health Network, which just spent $30 million to build a state-of-the-art hospital in Gold Beach, has been saving money to retrofit the building in Brookings as an ER.

Content and inclusion

Most of those who addressed Gold said in using county letterhead with all three commissioners’ names, it gave the impression thoughts expressed within were those held by the entire board.

County Commissioner Chris Paasch said if Gold had intended the comments to be only from her, she should have used her own letterhead.

“I will let the board know I’ve written the governor a letter explaining my disdain of the intent of this letter and I fully support getting an ER open,” Paasch said. “An ER would be a great benefit to Brookings and Curry County.”

Gold said she felt opening an ER was putting the cart before the horse and that more studies need to be done.

“To have this go to the governor... I’m still processing,” Boice said. “It is a divided issue. Far more people are counting on this ER — and the sooner the better. There have been people who have died without that ER facility. And putting the cart before the horse? You get an ER, you get it properly staffed, you get it properly equipped, you get people to use it, and then you can go to another small hospital, but not yet. An additional hospital in Brookings would put Sutter and Curry General out of business.”

A third hospital?

Gold is involved with the South Coast Healthcare Alliance, which is advocating to get a full-service hospital in the Brookings area. Brookings is the only city of its size in Oregon without one.

But law prohibits Critical Access Hospitals, which get federal funding for Medicare patients, from being within 35 miles of one another to ensure they won’t undercut each other’s business. Curry General is a critical access hospital.

State Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, worked with state officials years ago to change an administrative rule that would allow Curry General to split its license and offer an emergency room with some hospital beds at the Brookings facility.

“What you’re advocating for may not be feasible,” Williams told Gold. “And it may be illegal.”

In her letter, Gold said she was “very concerned” a stand-alone emergency department would be built, saying that patient outcomes could be compromised, particularly if they have to be transferred to a hospital later for more definitive care.

Williams, however, said that 93 percent of those treated in the ER — for lacerations, asthma, abdominal pain, severe poison oak and the like — are never transferred to a hospital.

“Seven percent are admitted,” he said. “Of that, 2 to 3 percent are drastic emergencies. If we have an ER in Brookings that can treat them, time is of the essence — not to drive to Crescent City or Gold Beach, but go to the ER in Brookings and get those things treated.”

More serious situations, including patients suffering heart attacks and strokes, would have to be transferred — but they wouldn’t go to Sutter or Curry General anyway, he noted.

“We will never have cardiac surgery here,” Williams continued. “Neither will Crescent City; neither will Bandon. I represent the best interests of my Brookings-Harbor patients when I say an ER is badly needed. The ER is close on the cusp of being developed by Curry Health Network and any obstruction to that — which I think Sue Gold is doing, whether for political interests or whatever …”

He said the South Coast Healthcare Alliance is counterproductive and divisive in its attempts to get a third hospital in a 60-mile span.

“We should all be pulling in the same direction working with each other, and that’s not happening,” Williams said. “The hospital board writes the state for emergency funding and Sue Gold writes and says no.”

Gold said she’d likely be appeased if hospital beds were added in the future, as Williams said could happen.

“For example,” Gold said. “Say someone has appendicitis; they have to be treated. They’re better off just going straight to Sutter or Curry General.”

“In your letter,” Williams pointed out, “you put, ‘straight to Sutter.’ I believe you’re what’s called a Curry County commissioner, not a Del Norte commissioner. What you’re advocating for is to stop the ER or slow it down. What you’re advocating for may not be possible. It may not be economically feasible. It may delay the ER over the next year or two. That’s criminal.”

“There’s no feasibility study to show how a hospital would affect Sutter, how it would affect the county,” Gold said. “There’s no observation beds to be in (the proposed ER). I just think it’s pushing it too fast.”

“We don’t need a feasibility study to tell us there’s an urgent need for an ER,” Williams countered.

“And we don’t need a feasibility study to know if we put another hospital in Brookings Harbor, it will submarine all the hospitals,” Paasch said. “Probably all of them will fail; none of them will be enough to draw enough resources to pay for themselves.”

Gold said in the first two months of the year she’d met with representatives of the governor’s office, State Rep. David Brock Smith, Curry Health Network CEO Gini Razo and Brookings City Manager Janell Howard, in addition to making presentations about South Coast Health Care Alliance’s idea of a hospital in Brookings.

“My thing is to let people know what their options are and let them make their own minds up,” Gold said. “Part of the problem in the Gold Beach area (where people) are part of the health district are adamant South County pay for whatever they get. And I think if a hospital comes in, those folks (in Brookings-Harbor) would be willing to pay.”