by Pat McConahay
is a sleepy little town with a big reputation: "Rice Capital of
the World." It's the kind of town that conjures up thoughts of
an earlier age. Traffic jams are unheard of. Life is simple -- or so
it seems. Simplicity disappears for residents of Willows when it comes
to getting adequate medical care. The town in rural Glenn County is
a symbol of what's occurring in small communities throughout California.
They are in danger of losing their only hospital.
Enloe Medical Center
in Chico, which operates Glenn, announced in early 2002 that within
weeks it would severely reduce services for financial reasons. The announcement
shocked residents -- and Willows Memorial Auditorium was the scene of
a heated public meeting.
Denny Bungarz says he's making it his mission to keep the hospital open
because of what it means to the County. But Enloe officials say they've
has a tough time breaking even since taking over the long-struggling
Glenn Medical in 1995. They blame it on factors that are out of their
Glenn Medical Center
opened in1950, and today remains the only medical facility in Glenn
County. It also provides the only 24-hour emergency services on heavily
traveled Interstate 5 between Redding and Woodland. Patients are often
stabilized at Glenn before being airlifted to other hospitals, including
Chico's Enloe -- a 45-minute drive away. In addition to the emergency
services, the hospital offers a family care clinic, a lab, and x-ray.
But Chief of Staff Dr. Dennis Galvon says that despite the services
Glenn provides, small hospitals have become obsolete.
Galvon adds that
today's medical advancements keep people out of the hospital, and more
services are provided on an outpatient basis. Glenn Medical isn't the
only rural hospital on the critical list. More than 20 percent of them
have either closed or filed bankruptcy in the last three years, according
to the California Healthcare Association.
What about the future
of rural hospitals like Glenn? Residents have said loud and clear that
they want their emergency room to be there when they need it. Enloe
Medical Center and Glenn County officials are working on an agreement
to keep the Medical center open in the short term. At the same time,
they are deciding what level of care to provide in the future, and in
what kind of facility. These are issues that all rural hospitals are
grappling with. In the long run, it will take a partnership of local
communities, as well as state and federal policymakers, to find the