Madera County hospital closes after filing bankruptcy, underscoring hospital financial pressures

The Madera Community Hospital has closed after experiencing financial strains and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Jan. 3rd. On that same day, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors approved a local emergency proclamation due to zero bed capacity at local hospitals, and the impact of Madera Community Hospital’s closure. The purpose of the proclamation is to alert federal and state governments of the hospital crisis in Fresno County.

“We are extremely grateful to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors for the 30-day emergency status declaration, which has now expired,” said Robyn Gonzalez, chief operating officer of the Community Regional Medical Center. “We will continue to look for ways to preserve essential healthcare resources—Community’s Level I trauma and comprehensive burn center—while we work with local, state, and federal partners to solve healthcare worker shortages and the volume of patients coming through our emergency departments that need hospital admissions.”

The local emergency ended on Feb. 7th, but both the Board of Supervisors and local hospitals believe that Fresno County’s hospital system still requires attention and assistance from the state and the federal government, including a review of reimbursement rates for those who are uninsured to ensure a sustainable business model, particularly in areas with high rates of poverty.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital expenses related to labor and supplies have skyrocketed. Government-funded healthcare, such as Medi-Cal and Medicare, does not cover the cost of providing care. While more individuals have access to coverage through these programs, hospital reimbursement rates have not received a funding increase from the legislature in the last decade, resulting in additional financial burden. 

“The strain on our local healthcare system is not sustainable and has far-reaching consequences on the health of our community,” Saint Agnes President and CEO Nancy Hollingsworth said. “All of our area hospitals are at critical capacity, which means access to needed care among Valley residents is becoming even more limited.”

In a press release from late last year, Madera Community Hospital already had plans in place: on Jan. 10th, Rural Health Clinics operated by the hospital were closed, and by Jan. 17th, all remaining patients were transferred and placed in other facilities. 

“Earlier [in 2022], the hospital began the process of pursuing an affiliation agreement with Trinity Health/Saint Agnes Medical Center,” stated the press release. “Due to the conditions outlined by the attorney general, Trinity Health made the decision that they could not move forward with the affiliation. Therefore, Trinity made the decision to terminate the agreement.”

Madera Community Hospital leaders reached out to other potential partners and worked with legislators to find funding for the facility, but to no avail. The closure of the hospital worsened issues and forced patients and those from Fresno County correctional facilities to seek care from other Fresno County hospitals that are operating well above capacity. The region’s hospitals are experiencing an unprecedented strain due to the high rates of patients requiring hospital admission, on top of the preexisting healthcare worker shortages. 

Local emergency departments remain extremely busy and have long wait times. Patients with non-emergent conditions are encouraged to seek care from their primary care physicians, through telehealth, or at urgent care clinics. 

“Given the current trends, our county and region cannot afford to lose one more hospital,” said Dr. Rais Vohra from the Community Regional Medical Center. 

California’s Health and Human Services (CalHHS) Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly spoke out about the closure of Madera Community Hospital. CalHHS will work with the hospital on their closure plans, and with health plan partners and county partners to make sure members are aware of other providers in the community who are able to provide care. 

“This is a difficult time for the Madera community,” Ghaly said. “We are grateful to the hospitals and healthcare providers in the region who are stepping up so that the individuals and communities impacted by the announced closure of Madera Community Hospital have access to critical healthcare services.”