This article was contributed by Dr. Parveen Sharma, MD.
Hazel Hawkins Hospital administration, which is seeking partnership with a nearby district hospital, announced that a community vote is not mandatory. The hospital did hold a few community meetings; however the attendees were comprised by mostly hospital staff, members of the Hazel Hawkins Foundation, hospital nurses, and couple of hospital-based physicians. Local community members were sadly missing from these meetings!
Strategically, the hospital administration seems to believe that this effort on their part, to educate the residents of San Benito County, is sufficient reason to negotiate a partnership with an outside agency. They would like the public to believe that this is the only avenue for the survival of the hospital in San Benito County. Although Kaiser has 7,000 members in our county, there are 40,000 community members in the county who are questioning why a partnership has become necessary.
The big question that begs to be asked is - Why now? What administrative policies and decisions brought the hospital to this end? It has been repeatedly stated that the cause is the declining government reimbursement, lower rates of insurance contracts, and outflow of patients to neighboring hospitals. Although this rationale has some merit, it is important to look deeper into past years for those factors that have brought the hospital to the point of needing a partner to survive. As someone who has had experience at many hospitals around the world and has personally witnessed a flourishing hospital as a trustee for 12 years- until recently, it is my opinion that the following requirements are the keys to the success of a community hospital:
- Transparent management that respects the community it serves by openly sharing the status of the hospital finances on an ongoing basis.
- Competent decision-makers who value and look for talent and skills among those physicians who live within their own community.
- Fiscally responsible leadership that ensures objective contracting and recruitment of qualified healthcare providers and employees.
- Un-biased and objective administrators who not only communicate their successes to the community, but also their failures when dealing with financial decisions that impact hospital operations.
- Administrators who are actively involved in the community, developing trust and respect for those they serve.
- Qualified leadership that demonstrates the ability to think strategically with the goal of achieving financial stability and patient satisfaction.
It behooves the Hollister city and county managers to review these requirements and evaluate how San Benito County and community members will be accurately and fairly represented in the proposed partnership. The community deserves answers to the following questions:
- What does the partner gain from this consolidation/ partnership?
- Will the partners be actively committed to investing in our hospital? And how?
- Can we be assured that the uninsured and underinsured members of the county will continue to get the needed health services within their own community or will have to travel miles for care?
- Will the partner strategically commit to enhance healthcare services within our community?
- Will all healthcare providers and staff who support our hospital be treated and represented fairly?
- Will this partnership ensure financial stability and success for our hospital and healthcare services?
- Are we to believe that by bringing on a partner, federal and state reimbursements will increase?
- Will this partnership commit to providing reputable leadership that will demonstrate accountability, competency, and transparency?
- Will there be enough representation of the community on a Joint Board of Partners?
- Would each member of the board commit to an open review of the affiliation or partnership agreement with the community, prior to making a decision?
- Will there be any pay off to administration if they are not required to continue working for the partnership?
It is my sincere hope that the current and future San Benito County healthcare leadership openly identify and acknowledge the issues that need to be addressed in an open public forum with the residents who elected them as Trustees.
Disclosure: I served as Trustee on the Board of Directors of the San Benito County Health Care District for 3 terms: 2002-2006 and 2008-2016.
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