The Pajaronian has traditionally avoided endorsing candidates and most other issues during election cycles. Our reasoning is simple: a news outlet’s job, we believe, is to provide as much information as possible from all sides of issues and to let our readers make their own informed decisions.
Occasionally, however, an issue comes along so critical to our community that we feel a need to step in and give it our wholehearted support.
This is the case for Measure N, which would raise $116 million for Watsonville Community Hospital.
If the bond measure garners the required two-thirds majority in the March 5 election, it will add roughly $24 per $100,000 of assessed value on property tax bills for properties within the district.
The measure includes an independent citizens’ oversight committee, which will make sure the district spends the money as voters intend.
Pajaro Valley Health Care District—the five-member board that now runs the publicly-owned hospital—will use the money to refurbish and expand the emergency department, replace imaging equipment and complete a large list of repairs and upgrades.
More importantly, it will allow PVHCD to buy back the hospital building and grounds from the out-of-state agency that owns them.
The history of for-profit hospitals is mixed. While there are good operators, some national companies have shown a disturbing tendency to ignore sound practices when cutting costs, and to close hospitals in lower income areas because they are less profitable than ones serving wealthy populations that can afford elective surgeries and discretionary procedures. There are good reasons why community members should opt for a community-based alternative to out-of-area, for-profit health care firms when one exists.
The former owner—Halsen Healthcare—sold hospital assets for $40 million, ostensibly to use the funds to run the hospital. But that company was ousted in 2021, and now faces a lawsuit alleging gross mismanagement, and that they took some of the money for themselves.
This purchase will save the hospital $3 million in annual rent, which will go directly back into operation of this vital community resource.
Now locally-owned, the importance of Watsonville’s hospital cannot be overstated. In 2022, a total of 900 babies were delivered there, hospital officials say, and 32,000 people came through the emergency room, a number expected to soon climb by 3,000.
If the hospital were to close—a scenario that nearly occurred in 2021 until Pajaro Valley Health Care District Project stepped up to purchase it and return it to local control—it would not only mean the loss of a multifaceted medical facility.
It can even be, at times, a life-or-death issue. With the closest emergency room at Dominican Hospital 20 minutes or more away—without traffic—patients needing emergency medical treatment would be put at further risk making the trip when seconds count.
The loss would also be an added burden on neighboring medical facilities as even more patients pack their emergency departments.
Without the measure, the hospital will continue to struggle financially, be unable to make the upgrades it needs and continue to spend millions of dollars to rent its building and the property on which it sits.
A vote for Measure N is a sound outlay for the future of the community, and for this vital resource. We support this initiative for the community to take control of its own health care with an investment in the wellness of the district’s residents.