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Doctors voice concerns about Hazel Hawkins Hospital at public forum

LULAC Health Fair hosts physicians and hospital administrators.

A public forum at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) fourth annual Health Fair sparked debate about San Benito County’s health care system, with a focus on Hazel Hawkins Hospital.

Among the issues brought up at the Sept. 15 forum were the number of clinics the hospital operates, its possible partnership with Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital and hiring local doctors versus out-of-towners. On Sept. 21, Hazel Hawkins announced an official partnership would not happen.

Physician Sylvia Morgan said Hazel Hawkins was the only district hospital in the state operating in the black 20 years ago. Then, she continued, the hospital began to add clinics, which added costs for staffing and office space.

“There is no reason to have five clinics within 15 miles, because even San Juan Bautista is close," she said. Morgan added that the hospital has spread itself thin by having to hire doctors to run clinics that it can’t afford.

Morgan later said that it costs more to hire out-of-town doctors, and patients would be referred to do their procedures and follow-ups out of town.  

“When I came here we all volunteered for the clinic,” she said. “We all volunteered as family physicians or [obstetricians] because we cared. When you start hiring doctors that don’t have their own practices here, that don’t have their own patients here, that don’t live within the community, they don’t care about the community.”

Physician Mohammad Barra echoed Morgan’s point about hiring physicians who can become part of the community.

“Maybe things have changed, but it’s worth a try,” Barra said. “Hire physicians who will come and set up private practice here because people who do private practice, the hospital system gains a lot more from them than they give back.”

Barra said those doctors would have their own office, pay their own rent, have their own healthcare insurance and pay their own practice while bringing patients to the hospital to use its services. He also said there will always be the need to hire specialists, but that can be done part-time.

Responding to these concerns, Hazel Hawkins Hospital marketing director Frankie Gallagher said the clinics are what allows the hospital to make money. She said the number of patients seen in the clinics increases annually and that the hospital places clinics where the public needs them.

Ariel Hurtado, a physician and Hazel Hawkins Hospital board member, identified three issues related to Morgan’s statement: 1) physician involvement in the hospital, which he called crucial because they would fight a little harder for the cause than those hired from out of town; 2) the need to look into the finances of each clinic; and 3) having local people keep an eye on all parts of the hospital’s operation.

Gallagher replied that the public has access to the hospital’s financial reports and that they are audited.

Several members of the public, including Frank Barragan, a candidate for San Benito Health Care District (the hospital board) Zone 2 asked Gallagher about the benefits to the hospital and community of a possible partnership with Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.

Gallagher said Hazel Hawkins is looking into making some of Salinas Valley’s specialists and other services available to San Benito County residents. She cited some services that Hazel Hawkins does not offer but Salinas Valley does, including cardiothoracic surgery and trauma.

However, Gallagher warned that it’s too early to say what the agreement would look like. She said there is a group of consultants, hired by Salinas Valley, working on a report on needs and that the hospital expects to receive the report at the end of September or early October. She emphasized that the agreement would be to collaborate, not a purchase or merger.

Physician Nazhat Parveen Sharma said before Hazel Hawkins began contemplating a partnership, it had to inform the community about its intention. She acknowledged that the hospital informed some members of the community like physicians, foundation members, nurses and real estate agents. However, she said, those members do not represent her community, which is San Juan Bautista residents and Westside Hollister residents.  

“The community needs to understand this hospital belongs to them,” Sharma said. “It does not belong to the administrators, it does not belong to the physicians, it does not belong to the board of directors. The community has put the board of directors there and the board of directors are accountable to us as the community.”

Sharma recalled how physicians and Hazel Hawkins Hospital worked together 26 years ago to maintain operations. She said the hospital was more than $5 million in debt and began to break even after three years.

Sharma asked Gallagher why the hospital does not emulate the San Benito Health Foundation in charging $25 for patients who do not have health insurance. She said the clinic gets reimbursed by the state, so it doesn’t lose money and offers affordable care.

Sharma finished by noting that Mary Ann Barragan’s $1 million donation in January 2016 for The Barragan Family Diabetes Center stipulated that the hospital was required to see diabetic patients for free, which she said the hospital was not doing.

Another topic addressed briefly was the need for more mental health services in the county.

“Out of the three counties, Santa Cruz County, Monterey County and San Benito County, we have the least availability of any mental health services,” Barra said. “Psychologists, psychiatrists, even private practitioners.”



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Noe Magaña (Noe Magaña)

Noe Magaña is a freelance writer for BenitoLink. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School graduate with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.


OPINION: Why so late with Healthcare District public meetings?  March 1, 2018

We were late out of the gate in March and now it's almost October.  Well, there is nothing like an genuine  emergency to get people's attention, but as always happens some folks want to blame the fire on those who first pushed the alarm button.  If only they had not called the Fire Department the fire would just go away.

I'm oit picking in HHH, but it is a public agency and as such, IMHO, the answer that the financial reports are available is a total non-starter for me and is an example of what's wrong with government.  Ninety percent of the hospital users are not familiar with hospital district financial reports that have some unique structures.  The hospital should put the critical information into clear, common language and disseminate it.  In this case the question was about the clinics, so at least do those.

As for me. I'm glad people are finally paying attention, but my fear is that we waited far too long to try and iron out all these serious kinks.  Well, better late than never, but the primary responsibility for the current problems lies with the administration and governing boards that were in place while the problem was developing, not those now criticizing them.  Whether new faces will do better is up to the voters, but the new faces did not start the fires that now threaten a key public resource.

Although they do not have direct governance, Hollister and the county ned to start paying attention too.

Marty Richman

Submitted by (Jennifer Dias) on



You have noted correctly that hospitals all over are struggling and reducing services, closing, filing for bankruptcy or partnering.  Our local hospital continues to grow and with good governance has been proactive for the past year, trying to develop a collaborative relationship to improve both financial stability and quality.


Only a handful minority of local physicians refer out of town.  These are the same physicians who lost a contract with the District last year to provide services to District employees.  Do these same physicians want that contract reinstated and are endorsing Frank Barragan and Mary Casillas, two candidates for Board they hope will do this?  Huge bonuses again?


Many employees, not just nurses, presented testimonials at several public Board meetings with allegations that these physicians were involved with denying care and specialist referrals, and collecting huge bonuses as a result of these denials.  They were not seeking to leave town for care.  This is more misinformation fed to the public by these physicians.  These physicians will continue to be malicious and continue to place their own needs over our community healthcare and hospitals needs by misleading the public, and seeking to replace the CEO/CFO and board members with “friends”.  Marty, follow the money!


You don’t need to look far for the leader of this strategy.  This physician is one of the major donors to BenitoLink, and this physician’s son is listed as the president and a member of their staff.  Nice move.

Jennifer, I am well aware that there are conflicts of interests and personalities galore regarding hospital MONEY.  Anyone employed or gathering a living directly or indirectly from the hospital or even in competition has a financial interest in these decisions, but my focus is on the major problem, keeping the hospital viable.

HHH's operating expenses are massively exceeding its operating revenue (more than $40 million lost from operations since 2000) and the bottom line has gotten worse because the tax and bond income and donations are not offsetting the ever-growing losses, but no one seems willing to take responsibility for this or change anything.  That is THE issue. 

I have NO financial stake in the hospital except as a user, taxpayer and, therefore, part owner by default. .No one "gave": me these numbers I took them from the financial reports.  That this is NOT sustainable and the handwriting was on the wall, but we did nothing for years.

YES, people's recommended solutions are often influenced by what's it for them, but no matter how self-serving anyone or any group may be it does not change the basic equation; we have been losing our shirt in our primary business - healthcare - for almost two decades. 

It is essential we come up with a plan that keeps the hospital operating for the benefit of the county residents - not for the board, the administration, the employees, special interests, or the physicians - the residents.  That's all I'm asking, but these internal conflicts seem to be dominating everything else which says a lot about how we have been operating.

Marty Richman

Submitted by (Robert Rygiewicz ) on

Jennifer you are so right that there is only a handful of physicians referring their patients out of town for care. If fact, one of those physicians stated to one of his patients that his group of physicians are boycotting the hospital so the hospital can go bankrupt for refusing to extend their contracts. The staff at Hazel Hawkins indeed voted them out because staff was being denied healthcare and those physicians were receiving huge bonuses for denying the staff healthcare. Another fact, Administration at Hazel Hawkins requested an audit last September 2017 from this physician group to show proof of where the staff’s money went while being insured under these physicians and as of the last board meeting on Thursday September 27th they have not received anything from SBMA, it’s been one year. Talking about lacking transparency, who lacks it sure as heck not the hospital.

One should only ask why now, why now after 25yrs these physicians at San Benito Medical Associates are endorsing candidates for the hospital board? Is it because they are hoping these two candidates will reinstate their contract so they can continue to receive huge bonuses off staff’s denials? Do we really want these two candidates that are endorsed by SBMA group on our hospital board? The community really needs to  think about it since these candidates are so easy to be persuaded in spreading lies about the hospital and their employees. 

The interesting part is some of these physicians served on the hospital board for many years including the last few years making bad decisions so how can they put the whole blame on the administration team. They all took part in bad money decision making. 

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