Opinion

COMMUNITY OPINION: Hazel Hawkins management must do their Job

Robert Bernosky writes that management and the board need to analyze the hospital's salaries.
HHH compensation. Image courtesy of Rob Bernosky.
HHH compensation. Image courtesy of Rob Bernosky.

This community opinion was contributed by Robert Bernosky, former Hollister School District Trustee. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all community members to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user in the top right corner of our home page and agreeing to follow our Terms of Use, you can write counter opinions or share your insights on current issues.

 

I truly am disappointed.  As I write this, I believe we are going to lose Hazel Hawkins Hospital (HHH) because I see the markings that are typical of entities in real trouble, and I see no planning to get them out of it.  (The bailout they seek is not a solution. It could be a tool that is used with other actions that can lead an entity out of trouble). It does not have to be this way. While the end is getting near, there is time to save this incredible asset that we need in this community.

The latest obstacle to over come is the salaries and benefits of the people in charge. According to the state controller’s office, in 2021 it reflects 110 people making over $200,000 in total compensation, with the CEO raking in $440,250.  The current CEO assures me she is not making anywhere that amount but is declining to state what her pay is.  The two vice presidents made between $378,597 and $306,585. While the CEO returned my telephone call to discuss this, she did so right before a meeting she was attending was about to start, so she could not spend more much time with me. She indicated that compensation paid by the hospital was market rates, inferring they had to pay them.

I understand having to pay market rate salaries, adjusted for San Benito County. The problem with this is that people earning that amount of compensation should have been able to keep us out of trouble in the first place and be able to work out the problems they are facing so that we can keep our hospital.

What I am most concerned about is the 700 or so employees not making over $200,000 a year that will lose their jobs, the prospect of which I am sure did make their Christmas or Hanukkah merry and bright. They work here, spend money here, and are part of the fabric of our community. That is 700 more cars commuting out of the county, if they are lucky enough to get jobs elsewhere. If they don’t find employment, we know where that can end: Families lives upended or ruined.

My earlier thoughts of writings such as this was to put pressure on the hospital board and management to solve the actual problems that hospital faces through business planning rather than their current strategy of bailouts. However, after someone sent me the salary and benefits breakdown of management, then heard about the board rebuffing a newly elected board member’s request that they meet more than once a month during the crisis, I am beginning to think that this is a variation of Bell, California all over again and we should start investigating.

My recent research has found that it was the management of HHH that walked away from the negotiating table with Blue Cross/Anthem. Since practically every school district, county, city, and water district employee are insured by them, I am calling for SISC (the entity that school districts purchase their health benefits from) and CalPERS (the entity that most others get their benefits from) be at the table in reestablished talks. The purpose of SISC and CalPERS being at that table is to hold each side accountable. Blue Cross/Anthem seems to think traveling miles from Hollister to Monterey or Santa Clara counties for healthcare is easy, but the reality probably is that discouraging people from using their benefits by forcing us to use out-of-town facilities means higher profits for their shareholders. Every premium dollar not spent goes directly to the shareholders of Blue Cross/Anthem and bonuses to their executives. If Blue Cross/Anthem does not honestly negotiate, we need a different insurer.

The new Speaker of the Assembly, our own Rob Rivas, needs to work on getting HHH some regulatory relief, especially from certain mandated work place rules that make it almost impossible for a rural hospital to operate.  Rob, we need you and now!

HHH needs the insured to use their facility because its other significant problem is the large Medicare and Medi-Cal population that results in inadequate reimbursement that causes many medical professionals to not want to practice here. The privately insured, even if government employees, is what financially allows them to earn money and want to practice in San Benito County.  This can increase the quality of health care providers to serve us.

I have an important project for work to complete by year end, so I pretty much have been working whenever I can over the holiday.  I hope the large handful of employees making over $200,000 a year at HHH are doing the same.  The ones making over $300,000 should have only taken Christmas day, maybe.

The board should be meeting every week, asking questions about specific desired outcomes of activities of management working the problem.  It is not good enough to say we are meeting with so-and-so.  Meeting for what outcome is what the board and public needs to know. The CEO told me the board is having special meetings and agreed to put me on the list of those noticed.  Maybe I will be learning something that leads to us being able to keep our hospital. She did indicate the endgame is to find a partner, a corporate buyer for example. That would be good; what might be better is to figure a way to operate independently as well. That makes us even more attractive to a partner anyway, but also makes us in charge of our own destiny.

Rob Bernosky

Rob Bernosky is a chief financial officer, Chairman of the San Benito County Republican Party, former Regional Vice Chair for the California Republican Party, former president of the governing board of the Hollister School District, and former Delegate to the Republican National Committee. He formerly served as a member and secretary of the Citizens' Oversight Committee for the Hollister School District. Rob is a former elected trustee of the North County Joint Union School District, and has served on numerous other boards, including the Heritage Foundation of San Benito County, a local water company, chairman of the San Benito County Republican Party, and was a member and president of the San Benito County Committee on School District Organization. Rob is married with 3 children, including 2 who are teachers in public schools and 1 in private industry.