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March 30, 2020

Underwood is out as Hazel Hawkins CEO

20-year tenure at local hospital ends June 30

The San Benito Health Care District Board of Directors is replacing Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital’s 20-year CEO Ken Underwood.

The board on Jan. 23 voted unanimously to reject a new two-year contract for Underwood, instead giving him a six-month extension during a “transition” period.

“The board determined it was an appropriate time to assign a new vision and direction with the hospital leadership,” said Board Chair Josie Sanchez. She gave no further details for the change, other than to say, “We thank Mr. Underwood for his dedication, integrity, and a commitment to advancing quality health care services in San Benito County and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Underwood is not leaving his $388,622 annual salary for another job, and the hospital has no replacement in mind. His new short-term contract expires June 30.

Hospital spokesperson Frankie Gallagher said, “The board’s goal is to have a new CEO in place on or before July 1.”

Sanchez said the hoped-for Critical Access Hospital designation from Medicare will need new leadership. Underwood had said in 2018 that securing this designation—and the higher Medicare reimbursement rates that go along with it—is key to the hospital’s financial stability.

Gallagher said the hospital’s quest for this designation is “still in progress” and can’t proceed to the next step, a survey by federal health officials, until after the hospital Intensive Care Unit reopens in early March.

Underwood and his team guided the hospital through a significant growth period—establishing, acquiring and constructing facilities, clinics and centers in over 20 new locations throughout the county. He directed the expansion and development of a new 18-bed modern emergency department, a new Women’s Center and women’s diagnostic imaging center, and the opening of the Barragan Family Diabetes Center. The hospital had sought an agreement with Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital in 2018, to combine some administrative services, but the deal fell through.

“I want to thank this board and all previous boards for the distinct honor and privilege it has been to serve you, our staff and physicians, and our community for the past 20 years and I look forward to guiding a smooth transition,” said Underwood in a statement. “The [health care] district is stable and positioned well to continue to grow and enhance quality outcomes with our outstanding team of employees and clinicians. Hazel Hawkins will always remain treasured in my heart.”

Under his tenure, Underwood recruited new specialists to Hazel Hawkins, including two full-time endocrinologists, three full-time orthopedic surgeons, a neurologist, rheumatologist, pulmonologist, psychiatrist, cardiologist, infectious disease specialist, three surgeons, two obstetricians, a gastroenterologist, a hospitalist team, two pediatricians, and the addition of the Pediatrix Medical Group, a MEDNAX affiliate.

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