PARHOSP 03 | Paradise’s hospital closed for good? | The Paradise

Paradise’s hospital closed for good?

PARADISE — Chris Champlin holds residents of the Paradise ridge in high regard. He wasn’t in the north state when the Camp Fire ripped through the community, not yet in charge of the health system that covers the area, Adventist Health Feather River. He visits; he meets survivors and connects with colleagues at Butte County’s hospitals.

“I actually love going up there — it’s probably some of the best times of the month — because of the passion,” Champlin, president of Adventist Health and Rideout, said in his office in Marysville. “Getting to know a few of the community members better, I love the passion for rebuilding the community, the love for it.

“It’s inspirational when you see people with that much love, that much commitment to community.”

That’s the humanistic side. From an administrator side, he faces difficult decisions around providing health care in a challenging environment. The 2018 wildfire displaced a vast portion of residents on the ridge. Recovery is gradual: The 22,000 people living in Paradise and Magalia represent less than half the population pre-fire. Meanwhile, COVID and the economy have hit health systems hard.

Adventist Health recovered Camp Fire funds in excess of $100 million ($128 million from its insurer, according to a tax review by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, plus an undisclosed settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Fire Victims Trust). The organization has invested $2 million in expanding services at its clinic on Skyway — imaging, primary care, urgent care and specialty medicine. Looming larger is its facility on the other side of town.

Adventist Health Feather River Hospital on Pentz Road, overlooking Feather River Canyon, remains closed. Adventist Health had pursued a partnership with Enloe Medical Center for a facility at the base of Skyway, near Chico city limits; both Champlin and Enloe CEO Mike Wiltermood said that project won’t develop. Adventist Health already faced seismic retrofits at the hospital to bring the full complex up to code.

Asked if the will reopen, Champlin responded, “Never say never” — but Adventist Health is focused on the clinic, along with restarting hospice care and adding skilled nursing, potentially at the Pentz Road site.

“We are committed,” Champlin said. “Adventist Health was there prior to the fire; Adventist Health is going to be there post to the fire. Our focus right now is the clinic on Skyway — expanding that, expanding the services, stabilizing the hours that we’re open.

“I’m very appreciative of the community’s leaders working with us and making sure we’re expanding that clinic as the community rebounds.”


Not all community leaders are on board. Town Councilor Woody Culleton expressed feeling betrayed by what residents have and what Adventist Health is offering. He and fellow long-time Councilor Steve Crowder expected, if not a full reopening, at least a standalone emergency room — for which the hospital received regulatory relief, thanks to lobbying from Paradise officials and north state legislators.

At the Skyway clinic, Culleton said, “there’s nothing there. Right after the fire, they closed the pharmacy. You can see a doctor there; they have a lab where you can get blood drawn. That’s about it.

“They’re telling the town they’re going to put $2 million into there to ramp it up into being more of a prompt care with maybe a very small emergency service. Right now, if you go in there with any kind of laceration, need stitches or anything, they load you up and send you to Enloe.”

The space that previously held the pharmacy is being renovated to hold new imaging equipment. Champlin also said Adventist Health is recruiting physicians to allow for more consistent hours of operations and, either in person or via telemedicine, increase access to specialists.

“It’s a great start,” Crowder said. “It falls short of what I personally would like to see. I’m very disappointed we’re not doing more to get to an emergency room. I think we are big enough (population wise) to do that.

“I am grateful for the services they’re providing now,” he added. “That’s very helpful to us. But we need more.”

The Skyway clinic comes under the auspices of Adventist Health’s center in Clearlake. With post-fire designation of the Paradise ridge as a rural community, Adventist Health Feather River receives higher payment rates. But the overarching operation is financially pinched, Champlin said; Adventist Health posted a loss of $637 million through the first three quarters last year.

“There were a variety of different strategies being considered for the Paradise hospital prior to the Camp Fire,” Champlin said. “The potential joint venture (with Enloe) for a facility down on the valley floor — build that hospital and convert the property on the hill into a skilled nursing facility. There was a plan to convert it into a mental health facility. We were thinking about reducing the number of licensed beds.

“Pre-COVID — it was a different world then,” he continued, adding: “We’re going to have to figure out what to do with that campus.”

Moving forward

He said he isn’t in a rush to do so. In the interim, others in the county — Enloe, Oroville Hospital, Orchard Hospital in Gridley — face gaps.

“Obviously after the Camp Fire, there were a lot of services we lost, and we’re still dealing with that,” Wiltermood said. “The hospitals that remained in Butte County have done an admirable job trying to fill in for those deficits, but it’s been difficult.”

Culleton expects more. He said the ridge struggles to bring seniors back because of shortfalls in health care. Crowder noted 4,500 contractors come to the ridge daily for reconstruction work, on top of a population base that’s skewing more toward families.

If Adventist Health won’t reopen the hospital, the councilors hope someone will.


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