Watsonville Community Hospital has been up and running under its new leadership–the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District (PVHD)–since Sept. 1.
It has been business as usual since then.
On Monday, however, a group of state and local elected officials, the PVHD board and a sizable contingent of nurses and doctors gathered in the hospital’s parking lot for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to ring in the new era of South County health care.
And to be sure, getting from looming bankruptcy and possible closure one year ago to new ownership and leadership was an accomplishment worthy of ceremony, said Board Secretary Jasmine Nájera.
“To see everyone be able to come together and work together across different sectors, across different communities, to see folks come together to support saving the hospital has been incredibly refreshing, and it gives me a ton of optimism and hope for our ability moving forward to ensure that we do have the right services in our Pajaro Valley for the community,” she said.
The story that brought the crowd together Monday began in 1998 when an out-of-town corporation called Community Health Systems (CHS) bought it. That company created a spinoff called Quorum Health Corporation in 2016, which sold the hospital to Los Angeles-based Halsen Healthcare in 2019.
Halsen’s reign ended when the hospital’s Board of Directors ousted Halsen after the company could not pay its bills.
Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project (PVHDP) was formed to purchase the hospital after its leadership announced it was facing imminent closure.
When the hospital announced it was facing imminent closure unless a buyer stepped forward, PVHDP did just that, having been formed in October 2021 for that very purpose.
But that required forming a healthcare district, a process that takes state intervention and legislators’ approval in both the Assembly and Senate.
That came from Sen. John Laird, who authored Senate Bill 418, which made its way through the byzantine legislative process in three weeks when most bills can take seven months or more.
He says he turned down offers to honor him for that work, which he said sometimes took daily talks.
“I said, ‘all I want is to be able to come to this ceremony when we celebrate it,’” he said.
He added that he did the work despite knowing it would be difficult.
“I knew from the beginning we wanted to save this hospital,” he said. “It was just that desire and that knowledge that we just had to save it; that failure was not an option.”
Assemblyman Robert Rivas, who authored the bill with Laird, said saving the hospital has been a “monumental effort” at the local, state and regional levels.
“And this is something of which we all must be extraordinarily proud,” he said.