In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake significantly damaged a hospital that had served the community of Watsonville for decades. Devastated by the earthquake, the nonprofit Watsonville Community Hospital (WCH) had to be sold to a for-profit corporation. In 2022, it returned to community ownership.
Still, in 2023, the State of California found 17 at-risk hospitals, including WCH, that were in significant negative financial positions. All 17 hospitals were serving populations with heavy government-sponsored Medicare and Medi-Cal insurance. Because these insurances do not come close to covering the actual cost to care for these patients, this leads to a significant financial burden for these hospitals. Those strongly dedicated to caring for the neediest patients are unfairly sent into the weakest financial position.
The state provided in 2022 one-time loans to the “17” but did not solve the significant underpayment for the care to government-sponsored patients.
Many of the 17 hospitals continue to struggle and one, in Madera County, has closed. Why is WCH different? WCH is trending to the positive with a balanced 2024 budget and improved financial stability projected. How did it do this? A call to action by its community and workforce and the establishment of a Health Care District allowed the community to purchase WCH out of bankruptcy from its for-profit owners. Now the residents of WCH’s district, through its elected board, are in control. Positive earnings will now flow back toward improving health care to our community.
Deeply committed healthcare leadership has replaced the turnover of for-profit administrators. The new leadership team provides access to superb healthcare for the entire community—the local workforce, young parents and their babies, our elders and those with disabilities. These experienced business and financial healthcare leaders are overcoming the challenges hospitals and physicians face in communities like ours. In strong partnership with the hospital workforce, they are creating sustainable quality care for the community.
To continue to ensure that WCH succeeds, we need to support Measure N. This bond measure allows WCH to improve facilities, services and infrastructure and supports its financial viability into the future. Supporting Measure N recognizes WCH’s importance to its patients and to the region’s healthcare system. To ensure that WCH, and other similar hospitals, have a sustainable model to care for the whole community, we can also inform our state and federal elected representatives of how important it is that Medicare and Medi-Cal pay California hospitals and physicians enough to cover the cost of care to these important groups of patients. Especially in Watsonville!
Let’s work together to highlight the importance of WCH and support WCH’s Measure N!
Larry de Ghetaldi, MD, is a retired Santa Cruz County physician. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.