The Santa Cruz County Board of Trustees on Tuesday appointed the first board of directors for the newly formed Pajaro Valley Healthcare District (PVHCD), the group that will have oversight of Watsonville Community Hospital.
The board is made up of John Friel, Katherine Gabriel-Cox, Jasmine Nájera, Tony Nuñez and Marcus Pimental.
Friel, an Aptos resident, is a former vocational nurse and CEO of Watsonville Community Hospital. He has also led several other healthcare districts.
Gabriel-Cox, also from Aptos, is a physician with Salud Para La Gente and previously worked with Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Sutter and Kaiser Permanente. She also worked with the nationalized universal health system in New Zealand. Katie is an Aptos resident.
Nuñez is managing news editor of The Pajaronian and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner and is news editor of Good Times. The Watsonville native graduated from Watsonville High in 2010.
Nájera, from Watsonville, is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked with Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance and in behavioral health with the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency.
Pimental, a resident of Monterey County, formerly worked as finance director with the cities of Watsonville and Santa Cruz. He currently serves as Assistant Health Services Agency Director in Santa Cruz County. He is a board member of Salud Para La Gente.
The board will be tasked with overseeing most aspects of the hospital, including acquisition and oversight.
Voters will choose future board members during district elections.
The selection committee included supervisors Greg Caput and Zach Friend, County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios, Health Services Agency Director Mónica Morales and Salud Para La Gente Executive Director Dori Rose Inda.
The appointments are a significant step in the history of Watsonville Community Hospital, which stands to see local leadership and ownership after three decades of corporate mismanagement.
After remaining under local control for decades from its founding in 1895, hospital leaders fearing rising costs and declining revenue partnered with Tennessee-based Community Health Systems in 1993. That company took over operations and formed a spinoff company in 2016 to run the hospital called Quorum Health Corporation. Los Angeles-based Halsen Healthcare bought the hospital in 2019.
The hospital’s board of directors ousted that company in 2021, and Los Angeles-based Prospect Medical Holdings took over operations.
In November, WHS CEO Steven Salyer announced the hospital would have to cease operations unless a buyer immediately stepped forward.
The only one that did was Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project, a nonprofit made up of the County of Santa Cruz, the city of Watsonville, the Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley and Salud Para La Gente.
S. Martinelli & Co. chairman John Martinelli, who served as a board member of WCH when it was a public hospital and when Friel was CEO, praised the new board.
“I worked closely with John Friel during his time as hospital CEO, and I know he and the rest of the Board have the expertise needed to make this project a success for generations to come,” Martinelli said in a statement.
For information, visit pvhcd.org.