watsonville community hospital
Watsonville Community Hospital. Pajaronian file

In Santa Cruz County, keeping our communities healthy is a collaborative effort by many health care service providers, and Watsonville Community Hospital is an essential piece of that puzzle.

For several months now, Watsonville Community Hospital has been teetering on the verge of closure and is currently in bankruptcy.

The hospital is critical to the health of every community north of Moss Landing and south of the San Mateo County line. It is important to note that early in the pandemic, it was the Pajaro Valley that was hit with highest Covid-19 rates in Santa Cruz County. Watsonville Community Hospital supported those patients—mostly essential workers and their families—as we all steered through the darkest days of the pandemic. Watsonville Community Hospital is also where 800 babies are born every year, and where critical emergency services are provided.

Community leaders recognize the critical role that Watsonville Community Hospital plays and have built a path forward to assure that the people of the Pajaro Valley have a reliable and long-term solution for their regional hospital needs.

As we work to save the hospital now, we also need to work toward the long-term viability of health care delivery for everyone. That means working with state and federal officials to ensure our public programs are reimbursing for health care services at rates that actually cover the cost of providing care.

Though California has been successful at expanding access to government-based health insurance and reducing the ranks of the uninsured, California’s Medi-Cal reimbursement rates are among the lowest in the nation. Similarly, hospitals and physicians in Northern California are more underpaid by Medicare than in any other region of the county. Because of this, hospitals and providers are not able to recoup most of the basic costs of providing care to patients with public health insurance. This affects hospitals like Watsonville’s because the majority of their patients have public health insurance. Without addressing this underlying issue, the financial well-being of our entire health care system is at risk. Yes, we must work for the short term to save Watsonville Community Hospital, and we cannot ignore the long-term need to ensure we have adequate care networks for all.

And our care network is interconnected, which means everyone in the county has a stake in the future of the hospital, regardless of where they receive services. It’s not hard to imagine what the downstream effect would be on Dominican Hospital’s Emergency Department if Watsonville Hospital were to close.

The path forward for Watsonville Community Hospital is for the community to recognize the hospital for the critical regional resource it is by creating public oversight through health care district ownership, responsive to local needs and administered by local leaders invested in the health and well-being of everyone. The Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project (PVHDP) was formed to accomplish this.

Local and state leaders and interested groups have come together to help PVHDP meet the goal of purchasing the hospital. This includes a $25 million public investment through the state budget, a $3 million grant from the Central California Alliance for Health, and several other significant donations. We are 98% of the way to achieving the largest community fundraising effort in Santa Cruz County history.  

The ongoing health of our region requires we all come together to save Watsonville Community Hospital—we need your help to push us over the immediate finish line to raise the final $1.6 million. Information on how to make a donation can be found at pvhdp.org.

As physicians, we see just how important Watsonville Community Hospital is for the health of our communities. Please join us in saving this irreplaceable community resource.

Dr. Donaldo M. Hernandez, MD, FACP

President-Elect, California Medical Association

Ciara Harraher, MD

President, Santa Cruz County Medical Society

Steven Harrison, MD

President, Monterey County Medical Society

Dr. Amy McEntee

Chief Medical Officer, Salud Para La Gente

Dr. Casey Kirkhart

Chief Medical Officer, Santa Cruz Community Health

The authors represent the Medical Societies of Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, as well as the primary providers of safety net clinic services in Santa Cruz and North Monterey Counties—Salud Para La Gente and Santa Cruz Community Health. Together, they represent hundreds of physicians providing care to the majority of local residents.

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