On a recent Sunday, Scotts Valley resident Sara Gonzales-Erhan walked past Sutter Health’s Urgent Care facility on Scotts Valley Drive with her daughter. The stroll served as a reminder of how staff at the location made a minor emergency last year less painful.
Elsa Erhan, who was 12 at the time, had hurt her ankle while running around the couch during some pandemic-era playtime, and needed the doctor to tell her just how bad it was.
“When I went there, she was really, really nice about it,” she said, adding the physician said she hadn’t broken anything, and shared helpful healing tips. “They were really easy to follow.”
Gonzales-Erhan, 46, told her daughter, who is now 13, that Sutter Health is planning to shutter the facility and bring in other services—primary and pediatric—and that the House lawmaker who represents the area’s been trying to convince the company to reverse course.
That effort gained steam July 14, when Rep. Anna G. Eshoo spoke with the health company’s top brass by phone and demanded they gather the community to explain why they’re making the move.
On July 16, a Sutter Health spokesperson said “local leaders from Sutter Health and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation had a productive meeting with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo earlier this week.”
Eshoo said she felt like she got some traction, but the result left much to be desired.
“I’m upset,” Eshoo told the Press Banner July 15, the day after speaking to Sutter CEO Sarah Krevans. “It’s deeply disappointing to me how my constituents are being treated.”
Eshoo is one of the most powerful politicians in Washington who’s been working on health matters long before she helped pass the Affordable Care Act—aka Obamacare. She spent much of her time as a San Mateo County Supervisor on such issues.
With the CZU Lightning Complex fires still visible in the rear-view mirror for many who are served by the Scotts Valley urgent care facility, and given how commuting across Santa Cruz can be a time-consuming proposition, Eshoo says closing it isn’t fair for residents.
“Being stuck in traffic with a 45-minute drive doesn’t fit with the word ‘urgent,’” she said. “This really landed like a bomb in the community.”
Gonzales-Erhan first learned of the closure plan through social media site Nextdoor.
“I was actually like, ‘Could this be true?’” she recalled. “I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me.”
Numerous comments on the site related astonishment, anger, frustration and annoyance.
“I think it is inexcusable that they haven’t notified patients who use the facility of its impending closure,” wrote user Janet Barlow, of Scotts Valley. “Sutter is getting way too big for its britches!”
A Bear Creek Woods resident offered to help fight back: “I’d be willing to join a picket line in Scotts Valley if you think that would help spread awareness in the community,” said poster Sonia Wyman.
Glen Arbor resident Joyce Spencer commented that she’d reached out to Sutter Health directly and never got a reply.
But the reason Gonzales-Erhan was taken aback by the news, was that she hasn’t had much luck getting her family health care protection anywhere nearby, despite being a longtime Sutter customer.
“I’ve been with Palo Alto Medical (Foundation) since 1985,” she said. “It isn’t like I’m calling Sutter and saying ‘I want to establish as a new patient.’”
She switched from a doctor in Mountain View to a doctor in Los Altos, for herself, and to Los Gatos health care for her kids—signing them up with Stanford Children’s Health.
Just two weeks before she saw the Nextdoor post, she’d called one of their Santa Cruz locations in the hopes they wouldn’t have to be tied to facilities in Silicon Valley.
The Sutter rep said she’d have to keep driving long distances for care, not because of a lack of physical space for doctors, but rather, because the company had a hard time hiring employees, according to Gonzales-Erhan. So reading the post, she wondered if they might eliminate one form of care only to struggle to staff the reoriented facility.
A Sutter spokesperson did not respond when asked directly about the comment.
At one point, Gonzales-Erhan had a problem with her knee, so she went to the Scotts Valley urgent care. She left feeling as positive about the experience as her daughter did after the twisted-ankle situation.
“The doctors that we saw at that urgent care, they’re really good,” she said. “They really take people’s concerns seriously.”
She was referred to a specialist in Santa Cruz, but that wasn’t the end of it. She got a follow-up call. The doctor was checking to make sure everything had worked out, Gonzales-Erhan said.
“You get so used to being in this ‘mill’—like a ‘patient mill,’” she said, explaining why the personal touch meant so much to her. “They’re just really friendly.”
Sutter says it will still offer same-day appointments in Scotts Valley.
Eshoo says Sutter “mishandled” the roll-out, and wonders if money had something to do with the decision—as in many corners of the health care industry.
“If you scratch beneath the surface a little, it usually has something to do with finances—but I don’t know for certain that’s what it is,” she said. “I think that people really deserve to hear from Sutter.”
Now the ball’s in the health giant’s court, according to Eshoo.
“I think that Sutter has a way to go in order to move back into a column of satisfactory performance here,” she said. “It’s up to them to pick up the ball.”