Health

Hazel Hawkins staff asks board to ‘take the ego out’ 

They voice concerns over supply shortage, reimbursement ‘black hole,’ and board transparency.
Board member Bill Johnson broke protocol to tell the nurses the board was with them. Photo by John Chadwell.
Board member Bill Johnson broke protocol to tell the nurses the board was with them. Photo by John Chadwell.
Mary Casillas, Hazel Hawkins interim CEO, said the word was being spread nationwide that the hospital was looking for a partner. Photo by John Chadwell.
Mary Casillas, Hazel Hawkins interim CEO, said the word was being spread nationwide that the hospital was looking for a partner. Photo by John Chadwell.
Diane Beck, RN, said the announcement on Dec. 19 by that hospital administration threatening layoffs and closure during the holiday season is a final insult to the front-line workers. Photo by John Chadwell
Diane Beck, RN, said the announcement on Dec. 19 by that hospital administration threatening layoffs and closure during the holiday season is a final insult to the front-line workers. Photo by John Chadwell
Sally Melendez, RN, said there has been a huge black hole in reimbursements for 10 years. Photo by John Chadwell.
Sally Melendez, RN, said there has been a huge black hole in reimbursements for 10 years. Photo by John Chadwell.
Alice Colton, RN, said the hospital has been running short of vital medical supplies. Photo by John Chadwell.
Alice Colton, RN, said the hospital has been running short of vital medical supplies. Photo by John Chadwell.

The conference room in the support services building at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital was filled to capacity Dec. 21 with concerned nurses and doctors. Hospital employees were notified Dec. 12 of possible mass layoffs within 60 days if a funding source is not identified. For the second time in two months, HHMH did not include the topic in their regular meeting agenda.

During public comments, seven nurses voiced their concerns.

Diane Beck, a registered nurse and representative with the National Nurses Union, said the nurses were present at the meeting in order to let the community know they will do whatever it takes to keep the hospital open.

Our main priority is the patients and the health and the welfare of our community,” she said. “The bottom line is that on Monday [Dec. 19] we were notified that the hospital administration is considering staff layoffs in the potential closure of our hospital at the end of February.”

She went on to say, “We could lose the largest employer in our area. We could lose what should be our right to safe, quality healthcare. We could lose lives. The announcement on Monday by the hospital administration threatening layoffs and closure during the holiday season is a final insult to the frontline worker.”

Suzanne Frack, an RN in the surgery department, said she has been at the hospital since 1998. She called into question the timing of the effort to consider a hospital closure. 

“We heard from CEO Mary Casillas that she and the hospital administration were meeting with elected stakeholders since July around a fiscal emergency and yet they waited until the last month of the year to spring this on the community and labor stakeholders. The only way we are going to receive outside help is if there is trust that the hospital leadership will lead in a transparent and accountable way. The hospital administration has been recalcitrant at every turn of this process.”

RN Alice Colton said she has worked at the hospital for 21 years. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve been short on vital medical supplies,” she said. “I work in surgery. We’ve had to borrow from other places. These are vital medical supplies that are very important to the care we provide.”

She said even after the board declared a fiscal emergency Nov. 4, the nurses continued to give the best possible care to the patients.

“There’s a lot of uncertainties that are creating morale issues,” she said. “We’re being told that you know payroll may not be able to be made. We have kids that are in college. We’re paying tuition. We have mortgages. There’s lots of things here creating a lot of stress for a lot of our nurses and for our ancillary staff.”

RN Sally Melendez said she has worked at the hospital 11 years in the obstetrics department.

“OB care is critical for this community as traffic on [highways] 25 and 156 makes it clearly impossible to get to Gilroy or even San Jose quickly,” she said. “Within this last year, we have saved at least five patients where death of a mom or a baby would have occurred if we were not able to be the ones to deliver and stabilize that child and mother.”

She also said the obstetrics department has implemented multiple plans to decrease its use of supplies by adjusting triage charges and removing items that aren’t covered by insurance from patients’ bills.

“Let me tell you guys, there is a lot of money that we have been missing out on because of billing charges,” she said. “This has been a huge black hole for 10 years and one that has been overlooked in getting our reimbursement with our billing.”

She continued: “Nobody could have prevented this perfect storm with the insurance medical reimbursements, and COVID. However, I want to bring to your attention that there’s a tremendous amount of internal issues that need to be addressed moving forward. Listen to the people that are doing the job. Take the ego out of it and take out the mentality of ‘this is how we’ve always done things,’ and just listen because we have amazing ideas.”

A surgery department nurse named Kelly, said, “We have been outraged by the continued lack of transparency throughout this process. I know the community has felt that even more so. The community deserves information on potentially devastating decisions like this, including the voices of crucial stakeholders, like patients, workers and community members.”

After public comments, board member Bill Johnson broke protocol when he defied Board President Jeri Hernandez’s cautioning him that he was not permitted to address the concerns voiced during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Johnson apologized for ignoring Hernandez, then said he thought it was important for him to say that the board felt exactly the same as the nurses did.

“I think you can have a lot of confidence in this board in that we’re going to do everything that we possibly can to make sure this hospital stays open,” he said. “It is the biggest employer in the county and it is absolutely essential to maintaining San Benito County the way that it’s been in my life and it’s been in yours. So please, we’re with you, not against you.”

The grim details of a potential shutdown trickled out through agendized comments from Mary Casillas, interim CEO and Mark Robinson, chief financial officer.

Casillas outlined what the board has been doing since its Nov. 4 announcement that the hospital was in a fiscal crisis, and it was authorized to file a Chapter 9 bankruptcy in an attempt to save the hospital. She said there had been three town hall meetings in the hospital for the staff over a two-day period. She said a mass email (see PDF) had been sent to hospital staff explaining that each of the board members had received a WARN Act letter that requires them to make an announcement 60 days prior to a possible closure.

Casillas said the WARN Act letter “can be retracted or extended if we secure some funding or have that day pushed out, so we communicated that in various ways over the last two days.”

Casillas pointed out, as she did in a Dec. 16 press release, that the county had turned down the hospital’s request for a $10 million loan, instead allowing for a $2.2 million advance on property taxes which, she said, they had received. 

Of that $2.2 million, the hospital was set to receive $1.1 million this month even without county approval, as the hospital historically receives 50% of what is expected to receive in property tax revenue. The second portion would have been paid in April but was advanced and is expected to be distributed in January. She also said a meeting had been held with representatives of Assemblymember Robert Rivas, and she was still to meet with Hollister Mayor Mia Casey and State Senator Anna Caballero to discuss possible funding assistance.

Casillas added: “We continue to meet with our financial advisors who are searching for private funding and continue to work with the recommendation that came from [California] Treasurer [Fiona] Ma’s office for funding that it’s a special program where the state will back 80% of the funding. So, it’s really a unique type of funding, it’s private, but the state is involved, as well.”

Hazel Hawkins has said it needs to come up with $25 million to avoid bankruptcy.

Casillas also said the financial group that is assisting the hospital is, “getting the message across the United States that we are looking for a partner. We are open to a partnership, whatever that might look like.”

HHMH said in a news release it had 745 employees and 41 active physicians on staff in 2021, noting that last year it had 23,594 emergency department visits; 2,319 hospital admissions; 42,981 outpatient visits; 83,679 clinic visits; and 439 infant deliveries.

 

Related BenitoLink stories:

Hazel Hawkins sends notice to employees of possible closure | BenitoLink

Hazel Hawkins initiates cost-cutting and savings measures | BenitoLink

Supervisors approve $2.24 million advance to Hazel Hawkins | BenitoLink

Nurses, resident ask Hazel Hawkins for transparency | BenitoLink

Board of Supervisors to consider financial assistance to hospital | BenitoLink

Hazel Hawkins sends loan request to county | BenitoLink

Hazel Hawkins seeking $10 million loan from County | BenitoLink

 

 

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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist. He has many years' experiences as a photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]