As a resident of San Benito County and the City of Hollister for 36 years, and as an elected Board Member of the San Benito Healthcare District, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past two years and shed light on the unique situation our community is currently facing.
In 2021, the District hired a professional healthcare consultant to take a deep dive into our operations and to develop a strategic plan for the future of healthcare in our community. The results presented to us in early 2022 outlined several areas where we could increase services, increase revenues and pave a bright future for the District—one that would sustain the amazing services that we currently offer while expanding services that could generate profits.
The strategic plan could not work unless the District built new facilities to support the expanded services. The capital improvements were projected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars but were the only option to pave an independent future for the District. The goal of this process was to ensure that healthcare would remain right here and accessible in our local community. We were up for the challenge.
However, by June of 2022, a perfect storm of financial complications affected our District. Some are unique to us, others have impacted small rural healthcare districts across the state and, frankly, across the country. Pullbacks in reimbursements from Medicare to the tune of 20%, recoupment of overpayments by Medicare from prior years of over $5 million, and the enormous cash reserve outlays from the pandemic all conspired to create a crisis that forced us to put our strategic planning and vision on hold while we wrestled with the financial realities of today.
The result, as we all know, was a declaration of fiscal emergency in the fall and engaging professional help in restructuring and turnaround management. In doing so, the Board has been able to work with a group of national experts on development and implementation of a strategy to provide long-term stability.
My decision to run and serve on the Board was, and remains, a very personal one. My family and I are no strangers to what it means to have access to quality, person-centered care by thoughtful and dedicated medical staff. We’ve seen firsthand the important work medical professionals who have dedicated their lives to the care of others can mean for patients and loved ones alike.
It’s in that spirit that my colleagues and I are committed to seeing that every possible option is exhausted in the pursuit of keeping Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital open, our critical clinics and senior services operating and access to quality healthcare remaining for everyone in our community. This episode made clear that the District cannot generate or finance the hundreds of millions of dollars for new facilities that would permit continued, independent operations. And it’s why, after much deliberation, we have settled on finding a strategic partner or buyer who can help us weather this unique storm.
As of this week, we are close to realizing that goal. We will need more help. Right now, my fellow board members and I are working with our legal and financial teams to secure financing and loans from a variety of sources to keep us going until we can finalize a sale or partnership.
What we need now is a concerted effort from elected and community leaders to help us get to the finish line.
Jeri Hernandez is President of the San Benito Health Care District Board of Directors.