San Benito Health Care District Board of Directors at the July 27 board meeting. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
San Benito Health Care District Board of Directors at the July 27 board meeting. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

Continuing their call for transparency, ​​Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital workers and San Benito County residents filled the San Benito Health Care District’s board meeting on July 27 as HHMH advisor Michael A. Sweet of Fox Rothschild LLP, shared updates on the bankruptcy evidentiary hearing requested by National Union Healthcare Workers and California Nurses Association. 

The hearing is in response to Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital bankruptcy filing on May 23. 

Sweet, who attended the board meeting virtually, said the dates for the evidentiary hearing will begin with a deposition in September and conclude on 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. Sweet said the trial is scheduled to run from Dec. 4 to Dec. 8. He is speculating the judge will rule soon after the trial on whether the bankruptcy will proceed. 

“So everything is now focused on moving towards a trial at the beginning of December,” he said. “There’s a lot to do before now and then.” 

Dr. Natalie La Corte inquired how much the evidentiary hearing will add to the overall cost of the bankruptcy. HHMH advisor Michael A. Sweet said “a lot of money, unfortunately.” Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

When the meeting opened for public comment, Dr. Natalie La Corte questioned the cost of the additional eligibility hearing and how it would affect the overall cost to the bankruptcy hearing. 

Sweet said he would accept questions from the board and that didn’t believe it was “proper” to answer questions from the public. Board member Bill Johnson then asked Sweet’s to reply to La Corte’s question. 

“Everybody is now affected by the ill-advised decision to use the court as a place to play this out instead of the argument table,” Sweet said.  

“It’s going to cost a lot of money, unfortunately, both by the district and dues that are paid by people working at the hospital, to pay for the lawyers and the experts that the unions are hiring to go to war with the hospital over the simple question over whether we are insolvent. I think there’s no question that this hospital’s insolvent.”

Since declaring a fiscal emergency Nov. 4, 2022, the hospital has been renegotiating the agreements with the different unions. Hazel Hawkins announced it reached a new agreement with Engineers and Scientists union July 10.

As for accepting public comments and questions during informational reports, the district’s legal counsel Heidi A. Quinn said “Under the Brown Act, if the board is not considering or taking action, public comment is not required. “However,” she said, “the board has decided to allow the public an opportunity to provide input.” 

Before dismissing the public to go into closed session, Hollister resident Robert Bernosky asked the board why the public was not receiving more information in the open session. 

“People looking to help the hospital—they’re not getting the high quality of information that they’re used to getting,” he said. “We all know you’re in a lot of trouble, but we want to know exactly why you’re in trouble.”

On Aug. 3, the health care district issued a news release saying they received a letter of intent from American Advanced Management regarding a strategic partnership.

“As presented, the LOI proposes AAM to ‘lease to own’ assets of [the health care district] for several years prior to purchasing them outright while maintaining the same level of high quality medical care to the residents of San Benito County,” the release said. “AAM looks forward to working with the local medical staff to bring needed additional specialties and services to HHMH. Identified areas such as cardiology and inpatient dialysis will help HHMH keep more patients local.”

The health care district has a scheduled special meeting Aug. 7 at 5 p.m. in regards to the letter of intent. The agenda can be found here.

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Jenny is a Hollister native who resides in her hometown with her husband and son. She attended Hollister schools, graduated from San Benito High School, and earned her bachelor’s degree in literature...