At the August meeting of the Government Affairs Committee for the Vista Chamber of Commerce, the speaker was Aaron Byzak, Chief External Affairs Officer for Tri-City Medical Center. Aaron’s presentation began with an update on additions to the medical center’s leadership team. Dr. Gene Ma, a long time emergency room physician at Tri-City and a familiar face in the community, has accepted the newly created role of Chief Medical Officer. Barbara Vogelsang recently joined the team as the Chief Nursing Executive, replacing longtime chief nurse Sharon Schultz who retired in February.
Tri-City Medical Center’s stroke team was recently recognized with a Heroes of Oceanside Award and was noted in the New England Journal of Medicine for having one of the top three highest stroke treatment rates in the country.
Aaron also provided a comprehensive update on behavioral health, including a recap of the reasons for last year’s suspension of operations of the inpatient behavioral health and crisis stabilization units at the medical center. New federal patient safety regulations made the continued operation of the facility impossible as they would have required nearly $8 million in upgrades to the medical center’s dated facility. Those upgrades would have taken nearly two years to complete, well outside of the 60 day window allowed for such upgrades. Since the suspension of the unit, Tri-City has been working with various community leaders, including Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar, as well as County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency and other behavioral health providers, to identify possible new inpatient services. Multiple proposals for new or replacement services hit dead ends due to high cost, extended construction time lines, or challenging regulatory barriers.
A recent proposal by the medical center offered Tri-City Healthcare District land on their hospital campus in Oceanside to be used by the County for development of a new inpatient psychiatric health facility and crisis stabilization unit. Unfortunately, the funding for this new development that was brought forward by Supervisor Desmond did not receive support at the County Board of Supervisors.
Tri-City continues to participate in discussions on how they might be able to help the County of San Diego meet their behavioral health services obligations. Aaron also spoke about the importance of policy reform including the need for state investment in developing the mental health workforce and the need for increased reimbursement under Medi-Cal for behavioral health services. According to Aaron, Tri-City Medical Center lost more than $34 million in behavioral health over the 9 years prior to suspension due to underfunding from government insurance programs.