The San Benito Health Care District Board of Directors voted 4-0 on Jan. 6 to close down the hospital’s Home Health Care Department amid its fiscal emergency and efforts to avoid bankruptcy. Director Devon Pack, though present via Zoom, was not allowed to participate in the meeting, citing Brown Act regulations.
Interim CEO Mary Casillas said shutting down the Home Health Care Department, effective Jan. 31, was a matter of being fiscally responsible.
Currently, the department serves 45 patients, but 38 will no longer be included after January, leaving just seven who will be transferred to other facilities, according to Barbara Vogelsang, chief clinical officer.
“We are looking to make sure that we bring services that are needed for the community,” Casillas said. “We have been seeing a decline in volume over the last few years, particularly over the last few months. We have seen a decrease in volume of 30%, which is really difficult. We have seen an increase over the years in our expenses in that department.”
She went on to say that going forward there will continue to be a decrease in volume and revenues.
HHMH spokesperson Frankie Gallagher said there are “numerous home health care agencies in our surrounding areas (San Benito, Santa Clara, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties) that will be able to accept our home health care patients and already care for patients in our community.”
She added the patients using this program are already in their homes so “the patient won’t be transferred to another facility, simply they will be transferred to another agency to assume their in-home care plan.”
Patient being provide home health care are already in their homes, so the patient won’t be transferred to another facility, simply they will be transferred to another agency so assume their in-home care plan.
“The clinical team has tried to get the volumes up over the years, but we just are not seeing the volumes increase the way we would like to make that a profitable business for the district,” she said, adding that other agencies outside the district can provide comparable services. “If we continue the rate, we are now losing over a million dollars just in this one service line this fiscal year. We have not made money in this department since about 2020.”
Casillas said the move would save over $1 million in labor costs. The department currently has 16 employees, four of whom, according to a news release, work on a per diem basis, meaning they most likely also work at other locations. She said in closing the department, the hospital would follow union contracts to determine who is terminated first.
“We will make sure that any of our employees that are affected are eligible for open positions that we might have, if we can find positions for those individuals within the district,” she said.
Registered nurse Adam Biggs said he has been with the department for six years and told the board it has been his understanding the department has been a “cash cow for the hospital.” He described how over the last six years the department has had three directors. He said the first and the last were “team players who worked to recruit patients,” while the second was only concerned with hiring more employees and not serving patients.
“There were a lot of turnovers in our department, a large waste of money firing and hiring and training new staff,” he said. “I offered to go with her to doctors’ offices on public relation visits, but that was ignored. She refused to send representatives to the nursing homes to recruit discharges. She basically ran our department into the ground.”
Marina Romero, who has worked as a biller in the department for two years, told BenitoLink the hospital had not provided enough support, particularly with billing. She later told the board, “Without proper marketing and being up to date with referrals we cannot successfully keep up with other agencies. We can’t maintain a good census without the proper support.”
She added, “There are other agencies out there, but I personally feel the care is not the same.”
When it came time to vote, Hernandez asked for a motion to approve closing the department. There was utter silence for about 30 seconds, after which Josie Sanchez, assistant secretary, slumped in her chair and said emotionally, “Why do I have to always do this?” before she made the motion. Bill Johnson seconded and then explained why he did so.
“As a board member, I really appreciate hearing that somebody believes the care that our people in the county are getting are better off with our hospital home care than they are in the other agencies,” he said, adding that “it is a business” and “we don’t have a choice.”
The hospital did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for comment on the names of other agencies that will take over home care services.
In regards to the participation of Pack, legal counsel advised the board that because his participation via Zoom was not included on the agenda, under the Brown Act, he was not permitted to take part in the meeting. Pack and Board President Jeri Hernandez said that there should be an exception because Pack was stuck in the mountains due to storms. The lawyer said she was not aware of any exceptions.
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