Economic losses are forcing Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital to look at options for downsizing its facility.

Cottage Health System, which owns and operates the Cottage Hospitals in Goleta, Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara, is predicting a $4 million loss in the coming year at the Goleta Valley location due to a low use of inpatient services. The hospital is evaluating a number of options, including shifting services to Santa Barbara Cottage, to restore Goleta Valley to a break-even financial point.

Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital is also considering plans to retrofit the structure in compliance with new statewide regulations – which mandate every hospital that provides acute care services must meet new earthquake standards by 2013 and retrofitting by 2008.

Janet O’Neill, Cottage Health System’s director of public affairs, said the hospital is committed to maintaining a medical presence in Goleta, but might look at shifting the inpatient services to another hospital.

“The reality is, we’re seeing many more emergency department visits and the outpatient services are continuing to be very busy, but we’re also seeing a continuing decline in people who come in and stay overnight. As a result, we’re averaging about 12 acute care patients a day,” she said.

Goleta Valley is an acute care hospital, a basic level hospital that typically provides short-term care after surgery, birth or sickness. The hospital is generally licensed for 122 beds. They currently have 67 beds for acute care and 30 for sub-acute care – which is reserved for long-term care. At this point, on average, only about 40-50 beds are filled, O’Neill said.

O’Neill said Cottage is considering several options to recover.

“Do we raze the hospital? Probably not. Do we retrofit it? That means re-barring the building,” she said. “Would it be better to concentrate the things that are working out there and then shift some services to the Santa Barbara campus and then not have to face the retrofit? That’s another option, and no decisions are going to be made until the retrofit.”

Ann Kwarcinski , a retired registered nurse who worked at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital for 20 years, said the potential downgrading is the beginning of a decline of medical care available to the Goleta community. She said the potential closure would be detrimental because it doesn’t give the consumer a choice.

“I think it’s a travesty that Cottage Hospital would even consider closing Goleta Valley. When they merged with Goleta Valley in 1996, [Cottage Health System] promised Goleta residents that Goleta Valley would remain an acute care hospital because of the growing population out here and the university proximity to quick medical care. Little by little they’ve reneged on every promise and this is the final closure,” she said.

Kwarcinski said that Cottage Health Systems overlooks the concerns of the Goleta community.

“The extra 12 or 15 minutes could make a very real difference in the outcome. I spent enough years in the emergency room treating very bad trauma cases to tell you that if several of those extremely bad trauma cases did not get to Goleta Valley they would not have made it to [Santa Barbara] Cottage,” she said. “I just think they should look at the broader picture and stop treating Goleta like the ugly step-child that they’ve always done.”

Cynthia Bowers, physician and director of Student Health at UCSB, said Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital sees patients Student Health would also be able to see, if they were open beyond their current operating hours of Monday through Friday, 8:00-4:30.

Bowers said students use the hospital’s emergency room for problems such as injuries, bronchitis, pain and alcohol-related medical issues and therefore, downsizing would not affect treatment for UCSB students.

“I believe that as long as they continue to have a 24-hour urgent care/quasi-emergency room it won’t have a big impact on our students,” she said. “I don’t think that the plan as I currently heard it will have a serious negative impact of any kind. I think it will be fairly invisible to our students.”

The board of directors for Cottage Health System will come to a final decision on the state of Goleta Valley sometime this spring.