.Kaiser Pledges $4.5 Million to Watsonville Hospital

Watsonville Community Hospital will be under public ownership on Sept. 1

With the purchase of Watsonville Community Hospital now a certainty, the nonprofit formed to make the acquisition got another bit of good news Tuesday when Kaiser Permanente announced it was donating an additional $4.5 million to the cause.

With a goal of $67 million to cover the purchase and operating expenses for the coming year, Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project has just $1.6 million left to raise.

Kaiser’s donation brings the total from the Oakland-based health care organization to $7.5 million.

County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios told the Board of Supervisors during its Tuesday meeting that the sale is expected to close by next week, and that the hospital will begin operating as a locally controlled health care district on Sept. 1.

Getting to this point has taken a Herculean effort, Palacios said, with some members of the PVHDP working the equivalent of a second full-time job to make the purchase a reality.

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“It has been quite an effort, let me tell you,” he said. 

And through that time, the community recognized the importance of Watsonville’s hospital, Palacios added. 

“I think during the past year, the entire Santa Cruz County has come to realize the vital role the hospital plays in our healthcare system, not only in our County but also in our region,” he said. 

In all, organizers raised more than $61.3 million in six months, a number County Assistant Director of Public Health Tiffany Cantrell-Warren said is unprecedented in county history.

“It really speaks to how important Watsonville Community is to our county’s health,” she said.

Supervisor Zach Friend said that while the fundraising goal has primarily been met, it doesn’t mean the county should relax but continue working into the future.

“It feels like the end, but it’s actually the end of the very beginning,” he said. “People’s lives will be saved, people’s health outcomes will be improved, and the next generation will be better off because of the work that was done, and what better compliment can public officials receive than knowing those things have been accomplished.”

Last year, when the hospital was facing bankruptcy—and during the uncertain period when PVHDP was raising the money—County and healthcare officials painted a grim picture of how WCH’s closure would affect the county. This included overloading emergency rooms in neighboring hospitals and forcing patients to seek treatment elsewhere for such needs as women’s health services, pediatrics medical-surgical care, and orthopedic and cardiac care.

“We want to ensure all residents have convenient access to the care they need so they can lead healthy lives,” said Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager for the Kaiser Permanente Santa Cruz County service area.

PVHDP has until Aug. 31 to close escrow before the sale is approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Jose. 

WHC’s assets will then be under the control of the Pajaro Valley Health Care District, the public agency formed to oversee the hospital’s operations.

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