Visiting Bear Valley Community Hospital

Physician Assistant Autmn Johnson, and Bear Valley Community Hospital CEO Randy Simmons, left, talk with guests from Loma Linda University Medical Center during a site visit at Bear Valley Community Hospital May 8. Loma Linda guests included Andrew Hibbert, Dr. Gary Botimer and Dr. Ken Jutzy.

A delegation from Loma Linda University Medical Center visited Bear Valley Community Hospital May 7 for a tour and discussion of next steps in the affiliation process. Loma Linda is the off-mountain hospital that Bear Valley Community Healthcare District is looking to partner with through affiliation. 

“This is my first time up to visit the hospital itself, and you know it’s great to see the facility,” said Andrew Hibbert, manager of business administration for Loma Linda UMC. “We here at Loma Linda are very excited about this partnership. We’re very happy to be here.”

The discussion, which involved administrative and medical staff from both hospitals, covered topics ranging from what kind of specialists are most needed in Big Bear to how the partnership could be mutually beneficial.

“I’d like to ask the Loma Linda staff: What are you hoping to gain from this affiliation?” said district board member Rob Robbins. “What’s important to you?”

Dr. Ken Jutzy, chair of Loma Linda’s cardiology department, said the affiliation would simply streamline processes that would otherwise be complicated by bureaucratic obstacles. “Especially in your situation here it makes sense, for the patients that truly need to be transferred for cardiac care, that we have a system where we just take those,” Jutzy said. “We want those patients.”

Randy Simmons, interim CEO of BVCHD, suggested the current practice of transferring patients out of Big Bear could go both ways. Local patients could recover at Big Bear’s hospital after being initially treated at Loma Linda, thereby quickly freeing up beds at the larger hospital after allowing its doctors to perform the necessary specialized procedures.

Besides cardiac procedures, other areas of interest for Big Bear that were brought up included psychiatry, neurology and orthopedics. “The injuries that we most commonly see in the emergency room are from snowboarders,” said Dr. Adam Weissman of Big Bear’s emergency department. One of the biggest issues for Big Bear’s hospital is that there are many patients with these injuries during the winter, but it’s virtually impossible to find an orthopedist who will work in a temporary position for three months, Weissman said. Loma Linda may be able to help with that.

“It would be great to be able to help with permanent recruitment in some areas,” said Dr. Garry FitzGerald, vice president of business development for Loma Linda, “To be able to have a tie for those physicians that want to come up here to know that they can be part of Loma Linda in some way, and we have several models that would work on that.” Suggestions of ways to offer specialty care in Big Bear ranged from bringing in Loma Linda specialists on a weekly or biweekly basis, to bringing in Loma Linda medical students, to using the affiliation with Loma Linda as a hiring incentive for permanent specialists in Big Bear, offering them vacation time when they could be temporarily replaced by Loma Linda doctors, or providing work for them in Loma Linda during Big Bear’s slow seasons. If Big Bear could expand services by attracting permanent medical specialists, it could help the hospital not only in terms of offering more comprehensive care, but financially.

“The community has gradually learned that we don’t usually have surgery, and we don’t necessarily have this service or that service, so don’t even waste your time, just go down the hill,” Weissman said. “So there’s a population of patients that we don’t see but that are here, that are just bypassing us.” Weissman said he would love to see those patients come back, which could become a realistic possibility if the hospital could regularly offer more services.

“We’re talking about potentially having a big positive impact on your guys’ bottom line if we really can keep services here,” said Rusty Oft, director of business development for Loma Linda.

The possibility of bringing Big Bear personnel to Loma Linda to meet doctors and staff was also discussed. As a teaching facility, Loma Linda has extensive training facilities where medical staff from both hospitals could simulate ways to cooperate in real-world situations. “We can re-create any natural disaster, earthquake, fires, we can bring in smoke, smells, whatever you want,” FitzGerald said. “We have a helicopter there, so we can train, you know, doing blood-work on a moving helicopter. We have an ambulance and we have a full scale emergency department.”

Simmons said the next step in the affiliation process is to work out the details of a memorandum of understanding between the two hospitals.

Contact reporter Jonathan Riley via email at jriley.grizzly@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @BBGrizzlyJon.

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