SEEKING ANSWERS: A Hollister resident addresses the hospital board during public comment.

The San Benito Health Care District (SBHD) announced at their Sept. 28 regular meeting that they are still in talks with American Advanced Management (AAM) for a potential partnership with Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital (HHMH) despite recent allegations of misconduct by the private health care company.

The hospital’s CEO revealed at the recent meeting that another organization has expressed interest in partnering with HHMH, but did not identify that party. 

More than 30 people filled the district board meeting in the Great Room at HHMH’s Support Services building, a typical turnout in recent months as concerns over the hospital’s bankruptcy filing and developing talks of a buyout mount.

The meeting came on the heels of a town hall put on by the California Nurses Association (CNA) the previous week in which the allegations against AAM were brought up. That issue, and the claims by CNA that HHMH is doing better financially than it is portraying to the public, are making the public wary of a potential sale of the hospital.

Allegations against AAM have surfaced in the past month accusing the organization of attempting to bribe the CEO of Madera Hospital with a $150,000 check and an executive position at the hospital if it was sold to or managed by AAM. 

AAM has denied that the money offered was a bribe and that “there were better ways of handling that process,” according to attorney Hamid Rafatjoo, who represents AAM. That investigation is ongoing. 

Despite these apprehensions, HHMH interim CEO Mary Casillas in her report to the district board said that she is continuing to explore a partnership with AAM.

“Several board members and two of us from administration spent some time at some of the AAM hospitals just north of Sacramento,” Casillas said. She also reported that the SBHD delegation got to meet staff members at those AAM sites as part of the due diligence process to see how these facilities are being managed.

During public comment, one attendee voiced her concerns over what exactly is going into the process of determining if AAM would be a good partner for the Hollister hospital. Elia Salinas asked the district board to define what they consider adequate due diligence in this case.

“What does she describe as doing due diligence? Did she look at the paint on the wall? What color the walls are painted?” Salinas asked.

Salinas suggested that Casillas talk to AAM patients, doctors and nurses as part of the process.

“A report coming and saying she did due diligence is not satisfactory to a position of a CEO trying to make a decision on a multimillion dollar asset that we have here in San Benito County that we may lose, and I think the public has a right to know,” Salinas said. 

The misconduct allegations against AAM were also brought up Sept. 28 and an attendee compared these to a recent national political scandal in which a senator was stripped of committee assignments due to corruption allegations. Hollister resident Rob Bernosky believes the claims against AAM merit that similar action be taken.

“(AAM) has been accused of bribery to the tune of $150,000 given to the CEO and I would say that that should cause pause in your minds and we should—you should—not do anything with (AAM) until this gets adjudicated,” Bernosky said. “To treat them as the golden child, still, is an abdication of your duty, in my opinion.”

The district board did say, however, that they are still looking into other partnerships and that talks with AAM are not a done deal. Casillas reported that the board had met with representatives of Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital and their consultants. Salinas Valley has shown interest in a partnership with HHMH and is in the due diligence process.

“It was a positive site visit and we’re ready to answer any questions and see if they put in a proposal,” Casillas said.

In a new development, Casillas revealed that there is a third interested party who has also begun engaging with the district board. She did not give the name of the potential partner.

“We had a very successful site visit here and if this party decides to move along we will report back to the board,” Casillas said. 

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