ER staff at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital. File photo.
ER staff at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital. File photo.

This article was written by BenitoLink intern Vivian Guadalupe Sierra

Lea este articulo en español aquí.

San Benito County behavioral therapists, caregivers, pharmacists, clinicians and other health care professionals came together on Sept. 26 to discuss the challenges they’ve faced while serving San Benito County residents.

Many issues came to light in the meeting. Amid an increase in substance abuse issues to youth health and safety concerns, these health care workers said their biggest issue is the lack of staff.

“We have overstressed and overworked staff,” said Rosa Vivian Fernandez, San Benito Health Foundation CEO. “Everyone says the pandemic is over, but the residual effects say otherwise for our health care workers.”

San Benito County Public Health Department Pharmacist Mary White said, “We are at a disproportionate ratio. We don’t have enough healthcare workers in our county to meet the needs of our growing population.”

San Benito County Healthcare Workers participate in meeting. Photo by Leslie David.

Participants expressed concern regarding their ability to keep up with the increasing demand for resources in San Benito County and fear what the future might hold if this trend continues.

In sharing their worst-case scenario, if the resource challenges continue, they picture a community that will experience an increase in opioid deaths, mental health issues, crime and overall unhealthy living conditions because of a lack of social services.

San Benito County Behavioral Health Services Staff Analyst Louise Coombes warned of further problems for the county.

“If it’s just a massive population without matching services, it [the county] could quickly deteriorate,” she said.

An unhealthy community for youth was also identified as a worst-case scenario.

San Benito County Healthcare Workers participate in meeting. Photo by Leslie David.

Concerned for the future of their health, Brielle Duncan, a Hollister High School health aid, expressed the need for an outlet—things for youth to do—to avoid resorting to unhealthy choices.

“If you have a lot of teens that are bored because there’s not a lot to do around here, we’re going to end up with more teen pregnancies, drug overdoses, addiction, fighting, depression and anxiety,” said Duncan.

These health care workers didn’t spend much time on the negatives, however, and quickly got to envisioning a healthy and engaged community with accessible healthcare services.

“It all comes down to having a safe and thriving community,” said Elizabeth Lopez, a San Benito County clinical supervisor. “That would be the best possible outcome. No teen pregnancy. No drug use. No overdoses.”

So how can they reach this goal? In their brainstorming process, suggestions of increasing community activities and providing quality education beyond grade school for all age groups to help reduce or eliminate early onset health issues were mentioned.  

Ruth Hernandez of Sun Street Centers proposed that the city of Hollister implement a recreational center for all. 

“We need to close the age gap,” she said. “A large center would be good for families to stay active. This can help avoid becoming diabetic at a young age.” 

Feeling hopeful for the future, these healthcare workers emphasized the importance of connectivity among their departments. As the listening session came to an end, attendees committed to bridging departmental gaps and improving communication for the benefit of residents. However, they also requested help from decision-makers to streamline funding, reduce bureaucracy and to “listen to the boots on the ground,” as White said.

BenitoLink’s listening sessions are a continuation of those done by the Community Foundation for San Benito County. Several notable results followed the foundation’s 2011-12 listening sessions. 

  • The founding of BenitoLink, a nonprofit news organization serving the residents of San Benito County with local and regional news and information
  • The REACH Parks Foundation, which has been central to the development of parks and walking trails in San Benito County
  • The Community Foundation Women’s Fund, which has helped women with financial support and educational programs
  • Local nonprofits such as the San Benito County Farm Bureau identified the need for leaders with a better understanding of agriculture, and worked to bring qualified team members into leadership positions

RSVPs to attend the listening sessions are required.

To RSVP, please fill out this form, or email

The 2023 Vision San Benito County listening sessions are supported by the Calhoun/Christiano Family Fund and the Community Foundation for San Benito County. There are approximately 20 listening sessions scheduled throughout September and October on issues and solutions from many small segments of the community. BenitoLink is reporting back the results in articles about each session. 

The BenitoLink Internship Program is a paid, skill-building program that prepares local youth for a professional career. This program is supported by Monterey Peninsula Foundation AT&T Golf Tour, United Way, Taylor Farms and the Emma Bowen Foundation.