Fabiana Ochoa provided attendees with a presentation on Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital’s troubles over the last year. Photo by Leslie David.
Fabiana Ochoa provided attendees with a presentation on Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital’s troubles over the last year. Photo by Leslie David.

Nurses and members of the public tore into American Advanced Management Group, the company that is showing interest in purchasing Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, at a Sept. 21 town hall. The group discussed recent allegations of bribery against the company and the way the company staffs its facilities.

The meeting was organized by the California Nurses Association and held at the Strada Verde Building in Hollister. The nurses union questioned the need for a sale of the hospital and several attendees recommended re-organization of leadership instead.

While the nurses association used the acronym AAMG for American Advanced Management Group, the hospital said they are dealing with AAM, which stands for American Advanced Management Inc. 

The group of about 40 came together for another update on the status of the hospital in relation to nursing jobs. Slumped in their chairs, the group of mostly women listened as Fabiana Ochoa with the nurses association pointed to her slide presentation, “How did we get here,” and walked through the hospital’s troubles over the last year.

“The books just weren’t adding up,” she said, reiterating the union’s claim that the bankruptcy is an “attempt to union bust.”

A September evidentiary hearing by the California Northern Bankruptcy Court in San Jose, requested by the National Union Healthcare Workers and California Nurses Association began with a deposition and is expected to conclude Oct. 24. According to federal court records, the deposition of experts will conclude on Nov. 7 and the trial briefs, witness lists and exhibit lists will be due by Nov. 20. The trial is scheduled to run from Dec. 4 to Dec. 8. 

Hazel Hawkins advisor Michael A. Sweet of Fox Rothschild LLP said at the hospital’s July 27 meeting that he is speculating Judge Stephen L. Johnson will rule soon after the trial on whether the bankruptcy will proceed.

Mike Raybourn, lead researcher for the nurses association, presented his analysis of the financial condition of the hospital saying that it currently has $15 million in reserves which he said translates to 42 days of operational funds on hand. He questioned whether the hospital needs to file for bankruptcy at all.

In an email sent Sept. 22, Hazel Hawkins Director of Marketing Frankie Gallagher confirmed the $15 million figure. She wrote, “15M cash on hand does not include any AB112 funds [hospital distress loan program]. We have not received those funds yet and do not know whether it will be a lump sum payment or incremental payments. Also, please note that the $15M is all the operating cash we have, the District does not have an investment portfolio to draw from.”

Ochoa said there was a 3% raise given to all executives at the hospital and that while the nurses union jobs appeared under threat, “executive compensations continued to rise.”

In a Sept. 22 Hazel Hawkins news release, the hospital explained the pay increase. “All non-represented employees which also includes administrators and managers received a 3% pay increase effective 7/1/23. This was a budgeted expense which was approved by the District Board prior to the notification of the approval of the AB112 loan. This group of employees have not received a pay raise or cost of living increase for the past two years and the increase is not retroactive.” 

The hospital has shown “a terrible disrespect” to its nurses, said Hazel Hawkins bedside nurse Sonia Duran. She reminded everyone that they had just spent the last few years “saving lives during the pandemic.”

Ochoa kicked off a review of the candidate American Advanced Management, which is the only entity that has signed a letter of interest. Ochoa brought up the recent revelation published by the Fresno Bee that Madera Community Hospital Chief Executive Officer Karen Paolinelli reported having been offered an unsolicited job and was handed a $150,000 check.

“How many people would flatly call this a bribe?” Duran asked.

According to Ochoa, the company has also been penalized $60,000 for inadequate staffing and $10,000 for a California Occupational Safety and Health violation.

The meeting took audience questions and members of an informal discussion group led by former grand juror Roxy Montana stood up with questions. Hollister resident Elia Salinas expressed the opinion that American Advanced Management will “hire nurses from out of the county.” 

“AAM has their own staffing agency to fill in gaps as needed,” Gallagher told BenitoLink. When taking on a new hospital, she said, “They keep staff on at the hospitals they take on. It’s incredibly hard to find staff.” She noted that AAM has said this previously at their town hall meetings. 

At the Sept. 21 meeting, Montana said, “Experienced CEO Steve Hannah was fired because the board ‘wanted to go a different direction’ and so that ‘different direction’ was a nosedive.”

Dr. Parveen Sharma told the audience, “We don’t need to sell the hospital. We need to change the direction of the hospital.” She suggested that if the hospital building is not earthquake safe, the administration could move into the old hospital and the hospital could move into the administration building, which was built more recently.

She said the administration building has an empty floor that could be put to use. Sharma added, “We paid for it.” She said the hospital is being mismanaged and that more doctors such as gastroenterologists, nurses and orthopedic surgeons should be hired to get the revenue flowing again.

Hollister resident and finance professional Rob Bernosky said he generally agreed with the union’s figures on the hospital’s financial status. He too questioned whether bankruptcy was the right answer and asked to meet with union leaders to explore continued operation instead of a sale.

Montana invited the nurses and general public to meetings concerning the hospital that are being held weekly (except on San Benito Health Care District meeting days) at the Strada Verde building.

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