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On Oct. 24, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to submit a nonbinding Letter of Intent (LOI) to Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, which is in the process of filing for bankruptcy. The LOI expresses a preliminary commitment to look into managing the public hospital.
The county intends to create a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) with various stakeholders including the cities of Hollister and San Juan Bautista and the San Benito Health Care District to manage the hospital.
A preliminary governance structure of the JPA would include:
- Two seats from the county
- One or more seats from the city of Hollister and or San Juan Bautista
- Two seats from the San Benito Healthcare District, which currently governs Hazel Hawkins
- Three to five appointments made by the JPA consisting of healthcare experts, community members and physician representatives to the board
- Salinas Valley Health as the contracted management agency
ECG Management consultants Jeffrey Hoffman and Alex Keser presented their final report—commissioned by the county—on the hospital during the Oct. 24 meeting.
The report found that Hazel Hawkins lacked financial sustainability and that most county residents are now seeking medical treatment outside of the county, including childbirth.
According to Cecilia Montalvo, another consultant the county hired to look at the hospital, Salinas Valley Health’s Board of Directors have seen ECG’s presentation and are prepared to submit a nonbinding letter of intent to the hospital.
Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki was optimistic after hearing the ECG report and advocated for neighboring cities to “step up and partner with the county on this.”
After the vote, Ariahnna Sanchez, a registered nurse working in Hazel Hawkins’ emergency room, told BenitoLink she was relieved and excited with the outcome of the meeting.
“The vote goes to show you that they [the board of supervisors] have the best interest in the county and want to have a fully functioning hospital in the county,” Sanchez said.
“Since day one, the nurses have wanted transparency,” Sanchez continued. “Community members also want that transparency.”
During public comment, four speakers spoke to the board about the vote and all four supported the county’s move to create a JPA. Two speakers were nurses at the hospital.
Isabella Zanger, a registered nurse at Hazel Hawkins for over 10 years and a Hollister native, described her job as demanding and reminded the public that the nurses worked through COVID-19 and the bankruptcy filing.
“Since the hospital board members last filed for bankruptcy, morale has definitely plummeted,” Zanger said. “Nurses and others are scared of what this bankruptcy means for them and their families.”
Zanger said the bankruptcy has affected patient care and staffing at the hospital, adding that there were only two frontline managers for the six nursing departments at the hospital.
She said each nursing department should have its own manager.
“All we want is to be able to come to work, serve our patients, and do what we do best: care for our patients and be supported and not targeted by administration,” Zanger said.
She said she was encouraged that the county has brought forward another option, besides filing for bankruptcy.
Robert Bernosky said the county’s move to gather community stakeholders was a good change that the community “would be very proud of.”
Hollister and San Juan Bautista will see this item in their city councils, now that the county has signed the LOI, County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa said at the meeting.
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