Officials say the drop is likely due to more patients getting insurancethrough Obamacare and seeking health care elsewhere

The number of patients visiting Riverside County’s safety-net hospital and its network of 10 clinics dropped about 11 percent after the Affordable Care Act kicked into full gear Jan. 1.

County officials believe people who previously relied on Riverside County Regional Medical
Center for health care are exploring other options, and they hope they’ll come back once they see the quality of
care the Moreno Valley hospital provides.

In an email, county spokesman Ray Smith wrote that patient numbers have stabilized. Even with a severe December flu season behind us (meaning higher patient loads), the hospital is beginning to see an uptick in our volumes as some patients return and new patients come in, he wrote.

Still, the drop is bad news for the county hospital, which is struggling to make ends meet. The medical center has been projected to end the fiscal year June 30 with a $36 million shortfall.

If the hospital can’t sustain itself, the county Board of Supervisors will be forced to make up the difference. That could mean less
money for other needs, including new jail beds to prevent the early release of inmates.

The board already has taken steps t fix the hospital’s finances. The management team was replaced and an interim CEO was brought in at a cost of $46,000 a month. Lowell Johnson’s specialty is turning around troubled hospitals.

In addition, supervisors approved a contract worth up to $26 million last November with Huron Healthcare, a

Chicago-based health care consulting firm. Huron experts are at the hospital exploring ways to raise revenue and cut costs.

About 9.3 million people nationwide have gotten health insurance since Sept. 2013, according to a report from the RAND Corp. In California, officials report 3.3 million now have private insurance or Medi-Cal, a state/federal insurance program for the

The county hospital has traditionally been the only place indigent residents could go for treatment; patients are seen regardless of ability to pay. But that will change, senior county staff said, with Obamacare giving coverage to the previously uninsured.

To ensure the hospital continues to bring in patients and revenue, officials have said it needs to compete for health care dollars. Part of the strategy is to forge agreements with private insurers to steer their policy-holders to the hospital.

Right now, the hospital treats patients in life-or-death situations regardless of whether they have health insurance.

However, private insurance companies might not cover the full expense of anon-emergency or elective procedure. Having agreements in place with insurersto make the county hospital a preferred destination would mean a higher rate of reimbursement for non-emergency procedures.

In addition, the county is trying to boost the hospital’s profile by reaching new academic affiliation deals with three universities, ” UC Riverside, Loma Linda University and Western University of Health Science in Pomona€” that use the hospital as a teaching facility. That could lead to a new name intended to bring the hospital greater prestige.

In his email, Smith wrote that the county is revamping the hospital’s customer service by installing a new phone system and streamlining patient registration.

“We are committed to creating the very best patient experience possible, in health care and customer service,” he wrote.

The hospital also was recently designated a primary stroke center by a nationwide hospital accrediting agency, meaning ambulances with stroke victims are supposed to go there whenever possible. And county officials are exploring the feasibility of adding a children’s hospital to the facility.

Contact Jeff Horseman at
951-368-9547 or




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