San Diego Business Journal 11th-Hour Deal Averts Crisis for
Blue Cross, Scripps

Palomar Pomerado Health System officials are hoping to gain approval for an incentive-driven plan to both retain skilled nurses and attract those in training to their hospitals in Poway and Escondido.

Palomar Pomerado CEO Norm Gruber and Vice President of Human Resources Barbara Hann masterminded the plan after a study showed a 24.13 percent turnover rate among registered nurses in 1999 at Pomerado Hospital in Poway and Palomar Medical Center in Escondido.

Palomar Pomerado isn't alone.

While the shortage of nurses is a nationwide problem, it is especially critical in Southern California.

A study showed that in Southern California, the turnover rate for nurses was 22.6 percent last year. That compares to 12.5 percent statewide, according to published reports.

Palomar Pomerado has 113 vacancies out of 615 jobs in acute-care nursing, Hann said.

To attract nurses, the hospital system may offer scholarships to nursing school students in exchange for their commitment to remain one or two years with the hospital system.

Another option would be to repay a part of the school tuition under the same commitment.

Another program, called the "Snowbird" plan, aims to lure nurses from cold climates across the country to come to San Diego during the winter.

To retain skilled nurses, Palomar Pomerado will take a closer look at salaries and possibly make adjustments.

Palomar Pomerado created a special task force called "the recruitment and retention committee," consisting of recruiters and staff members to mull ideas and outline a plan.

In October, the task force will present its ideas to the hospital system's board of directors in hopes of gaining approval to move ahead.

Palomar Pomerado encompasses the 333-bed Palomar Medical Center in Escondido and the 199-bed Pomerado Hospital in Poway.

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Scripps Agreement: A last-minute agreement between Blue Cross of California and Scripps Health may have saved as many as 118,000 San Diegans from being sent to other hospitals.

Details were not released, but had a contract between Scripps and Blue Cross expired at midnight Aug. 14, members of the health plan would have had to pay out-of-pocket for non-emergency services.

In a prepared statement Aug. 15, Scripps Health said it reached an agreement with Blue Cross that assures coverage for members treated at Scripps.

"Blue Cross members may continue to access care and services through Scripps hospitals and Scripps affiliated physicians," Scripps Health reported.

Catholic Healthcare West, a nonprofit hospital system with a 20 percent stake in Scripps, said earlier it would drop Blue Cross if the health plan didn't agree to pay more for patient care.

The major hospital chain also negotiated a new contract with Blue Cross, part of WellPoint Health Networks in Thousand Oaks.

ResMed Feels Fortunate: ResMed Inc., which makes medical equipment to treat sleep-disordered breathing, made it again on Fortune magazine's annual list of the 100 Fastest Growing Companies in the United States. That marks the second consecutive run for the San Diego-based firm.

"We are delighted to have again been included on Fortune's list," said Peter C. Farrell, ResMed's founder, chairman and CEO.

Contact Webb at mwebb@sdbj. com.