To the displeasure of a group of patients and their families, Cottage Health System administrators announced last week that a long-standing plan to relocate all of Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital’s subacute patients — those with a debilitating injury or illness who require 24/7 care — to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital has been scrapped. Instead, the 30 subacute patients will be moved to St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo, which critics say puts an unfair burden on family members who will have to travel longer distances to see their loved ones. The move is scheduled for early 2015.
For the past two years, patients and their families had been told that Goleta’s subacute wing would be moved to the fourth floor of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital at the end of a massive retrofit and renovation of the Goleta campus. On December 10, they were notified of the new agreement with St. John’s. According to an internal memo from Cottage CEO Ron Werft to his employees, St. John’s recently expanded its subacute capacity from 38 to 46 beds and, with a donation from Cottage, will be able to expand by an additional 25 to 50 beds.
Though Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is still a “feasible” home for the subacute wing, Werft wrote, the two-story Ventura County building with easy access to gardens and patios “provides a superior living environment for subacute residents.” In a press release sent out December 11, Cottage spokesperson Maria Zate noted St. John’s also provides “safe thoroughfares for residents and families to navigate the facility and grounds.” Zate explained, “When acute patients move into Goleta’s new acute care hospital, state law prohibits the subacute unit from remaining in the existing hospital building.”
Lompoc resident Carolina Moreno has visited her 28-year-old son Nicolas in Goleta every day for the last three years. (Nicolas overdosed on pain medication prescribed by Dr. Julio “Candy Man” Diaz, now facing federal charges of overprescribing to his patients, 11 of whom suffered fatal overdoses.) Moreno said if Nicolas is moved to Camarillo, she won’t be able to visit him as often. “I was really shocked,” she said of hearing the new plan. “A lot of families are having a lot of anxiety about this,” she said, asking “Who decides all this?” Moreno speculated the decision has more to do with “money and politics” than consideration of patient care.
Moreno met with Cottage administrators this week who reportedly told her the decision has been made and that she should refocus her energy on more positive efforts. She also claimed that a number of Cottage employees are similarly unhappy with the new plan but are afraid to voice their concerns for fear of professional retaliation. “If staff or employees speak out, they’re treated badly,” she said. “I’ve seen it; I’ve heard it. It’s scary.” In his statement, Werft said Cottage will work with employees to “identify opportunities at St. John’s and/or at Cottage Health System in the coming weeks and months.”
Moreno said she and other patients’ families will picket outside Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital this week, attend an informational meeting with Werft on Thursday, and continue soliciting Congressmember Lois Capps for her assistance. “Somebody needs to help us,” she said.