Trying to avoid “shock waves” nationwide: The local task force is working to keep Watsonville Hospital open

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To Years of financial uncertainty, which its leaders say was made worse by the pandemic, Watsonville Community Hospital may have to close unless someone buys it – something that would make Dominican Hospital the only facility in the county with an emergency room.

However, the hospital is currently in talks with a coalition of government agencies and health care nonprofits to keep the doors open. And on Tuesday, a newly formed emergency task force consisting of about 20 local officials held their first of the expected weekly meetings on the hospital’s future, said Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s assistant health officer.

“We have a lot to do,” he said.

Ghilarducci said while optimistic that the hospital will not close, the potential that could occur is worrying for a number of reasons: patients would have to be moved to another hospital, staff would be unemployed and the large number of people receiving services from the hospital would have to go somewhere else. For example, he said, the hospital has 800 births a year.

The task force is focused on preventing the closure and planning in the event that it does.

The additional load on the Dominican emergency room would quickly push this facility to capacity.

Manu Koenig, supervisor of the Santa Cruz county board, said the hospital closure would “send tremors through the county.”

“The additional load on the Dominican emergency room would quickly push this facility to its capacity limit. That means even my constituents in the middle of the county have to go to emergency rooms in Santa Clara or Monterey, ”he wrote in an email to Lookout, adding that the board supports the health district for this reason.

Steven Salyer, CEO of Watsonville Community Hospital, who took on the role this summer, said the hospital tried to find solutions but was unable to do so.

“As you know, the hospital faces many financial challenges,” he wrote in a letter to staff on November 23rd. “COVID-19 resulted in another drop in sales and it was difficult to recover.”

The Alabama-based Medical Properties Trust currently owns the hospital’s land and buildings, but the hospital has been managed by a Los Angeles-based firm, Prospect Medical Holdings, since January. The hospital has 106 beds and, according to its website, employs more than 620 people and 200 doctors.

Nurses speak outside Watsonville Community Hospital on Friday.

(Haneen Zain / Santa Cruz viewpoint)

More than 60 of these employees, represented by the California Nurses Association, held an information strike last month They condemned what they said was dangerous staff shortages and deterioration in patient care.

In response, hospital authorities announced that by that time they had offered entry-level bonuses to new employees and cash bonuses to part-time workers moving full-time. It also noted that there is a nationwide shortage of care that “affects virtually every hospital across the country”.

Government nonprofit groups working on buying

A coalition of Santa Cruz County, Watsonville City, Salud Para La Gente, and the Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley have held talks with the hospital about the purchase, according to member Mimi Hall.

Hall, former director of the county’s health department, said the coalition joined forces this summer as a nonprofit called the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project. The project is in the process of formalizing itself as an official health district – typically established by voters and advocates for the health of residents, as a water district does for a community’s water needs.

However, Hall hopes to speed up the process with the passage of a bill. The district project members are currently looking for a sponsor in the legislature.

California has 77 health districts and the Pajaro Valley Health District, if formed, would be the first in Santa Cruz County. The Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System is a healthcare district model hospital, according to Hall.

Hall and Salyer said they hope they can reach an agreement to prevent the hospital from closing. The county board committed to allocating $ 500,000 for the purchase, and the City of Watsonville passed a resolution in support of the county project.

Hall added that the group will also seek help from the governor’s office or through the state budget process in order to obtain the money to buy the hospital. She said it was not clear how much they would charge, but members have meetings this week to discuss the matter.

In his letter, Salyer said the sale would likely come through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization process. And he demanded that every buyer reinstates all employees. The CEO wrote that he hopes the bankruptcy court will approve a sale by February or March 2022.

“However, there is a chance we may not be able to close a sale,” he wrote. “We don’t want that to happen, but if it does, we have to shut down.”

When asked for comment, Salyer said he could not provide any further information beyond what was written in the November 23 letter.


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