Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital nurses pose with a poster with over 1,500 signatures Nov. 16. Photo by Monserrat Solis.
Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital nurses pose with a poster with over 1,500 signatures Nov. 16. Photo by Monserrat Solis.

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Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital nurses and healthcare workers demanded accountability and transparency from hospital administration and presented the hospital’s board with a petition containing more than 1,700 signatures. 

The San Benito Health Care District, the governing body of the hospital, held its board of directors meeting Nov. 16 where 20 hospital nurses who are members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) delivered a petition signed by nurses, medical staff and community members. The petition demanded that Hazel Hawkins remain a public hospital without cutting staff, patient care services or access to care in the community. 

Diane Beck, a nurse in the medical-surgical unit at Hazel Hawkins and a CNA member, said the hospital’s bankruptcy filing has had an impact on its staff and patient care. She said the bankruptcy filings caused nurses and medical staff to leave the hospital out of fear for the hospital’s future. 

Hazel Hawkins pre-trial and trial deadlines. Screen shot from the court documents.
Hazel Hawkins pre-trial and trial deadlines. Screen shot from the court documents.

“Many of us, not just in my department, are working incredibly long hours,” she said during public comment. “Just this month alone, which is only [up to] Nov. 15, I’ve worked 148.5 hours, when I normally work 72.” 

In May, the district unanimously approved to file for bankruptcy after declaring a fiscal emergency in November 2022. 

“All we want to do is to be able to come to work, serve our patients and feel supported and not be targeted by administration,” Beck said. She asked the board to meet with the nurses to hear their concerns. 

She urged the board to consider the San Benito County Board of Supervisors’ plan to create a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to manage the hospital. 

Eleven people in the audience spoke to the board. They included nurses and community members.

Other nurses spoke about the effects of the bankruptcy filing. 

Diane Mulcahy, an obstetrics nurse and CNA member, said 11 nurses, including one manager, have left the department since October 2022.

“We have been consistently short staffed for many months and have a temporary manager with no OBG experience running the department,” Mulcahy said.

Mulcahy recalled a patient who had trouble delivering her baby and said without the additional nurses on call, the delivery would not have been successful.

“We need our nurses back,” Mulcahy said. 

Assistant Secretary Devon Pack gave an update from the board’s Temporary Advisory Committee.

The board has agreed to have the hospital’s lawyer to begin communication with the county about a potential Joint Powers Agreement, Pack said.

Pack also said the hospital was looking at other partners interested in the hospital but could not publicly name them.

“We hope to name them soon,” Pack said.

The board is waiting to learn the hospital’s fair market value, an analysis conducted by HealthCare Appraisers, Pack said.

The appraisal does not have an exact deadline, interim CEO Mary Casillas said, but the board is expected to receive the report the week after Thanksgiving.

Once the report is available, it will be publicly accessible, Casillas said. 

Exploring proposals that may include leasing, purchasing or even joining a JPA are conversations the board should have, Casillas said. 

Pack suggested adding to the next meeting’s agenda an informational discussion of proposals such as the JPA. 

The next board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 21 at 5 p.m.

Other board actions

In a 4-0 vote, with Board Secretary Josie Sanchez absent, the board approved a three-year agreement between the district and the Central California Alliance for Health for the Medi-Cal program.

Central California Alliance for Health was contracted by the county to be the area’s Medi-Cal provider starting Jan. 1, 2024.

If the Central California Alliance for Health has “leftover money” from the state, they give that money to counties in the form of grants, Casillas said before the vote. 

“There’s a specific amount of money tagged for San Benito County that we will be eligible for,” she said. “It’s definitely another opportunity for us that we did not have previously.” 

Resident Elia Salinas asked about the cost for Hazel Hawkins to sign the agreement.

The hospital’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Robinson said the Central California Alliance for Health would act as a middleman between Medi-Cal and the hospital through the state and that there is no cost. 

Other items on the agenda included a closed session item and an action item to approve a Chief Executive Officer agreement with Casillas. The board met in a closed session Nov. 14 where the only item on the agenda was a performance evaluation of Casillas. 

Both items were canceled. 

Robinson said the action item was pulled by the hospital’s Ad Hoc Committee because the “agreement wasn’t ready.”

Casillas served on the board as chief operating officer for about seven months before she was appointed interim CEO by the hospital’s board in November 2022.

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Monserrat Solis covers San Benito County for BenitoLink as part of the California Local News Fellowship with UC Berkeley. A San Fernando Valley native, she's written for the Southern California News Group,...