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'Groundbreaking': Healthcare Providers and Residents Celebrate as For-Profit Hospital Set to Be Returned to California Community

"This is an opportunity to literally reshape the future of the health and well-being of this community."

nurses

Nurses strike at Watsonville Community Hospital in 2014. (Photo: California Nurses Association/Flickr)

Nurses, doctors, and residents of California's Watsonville and Pajaro Valley are celebrating a decision that will restore a local hospital to a nonprofit community facility more than two decades after it was sold to a for-profit corporation.

"This victory is groundbreaking as it is one of very few times in the country that we have seen a for-profit hospital returned to the community," Malinda Markowitz, RN and president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, said in a statement Friday.

"For-profit healthcare interests prioritize their bottom line above all else. From cutting corners on staffing, to closing facilities and units that are not profitable—but that are essential for the community's well-being—this 'profits over people' mentality has negative health impacts for our patients," added Markowitz. "Seeing this hospital return to the community is not only important for Watsonville, but provides a path for other communities who would like to reclaim their hospitals."

After a July 14 community town hall organized by nurses where healthcare providers and residents shared concerns about the Watsonville Community Hospital being sold to another for-profit corporation, the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust moved to buy the hospital.

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

The health trust announced Thursday that its board of directors voted to enact its right of first refusal and enter into formal negotiations to purchase the hospital from Quorum, a private for-profit spin-off company of Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, the original buyer that purchased the hospital in 1998. Quorum Health has managed the hospital since 2015.

The hospital, 75 Nielson St., is a 106-bed facility that serves Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito counties. The health trust was founded when the hospital sold in 1998 and has since been contractually entitled to match new offers of purchase.

"This shows us in the starkest terms that when a community comes together with a clear goal that serves the needs of all, the people can move mountains," said Silvia Perez, RN. "We are so excited to begin work on the next phase of returning this hospital to the people and patients of Watsonville."

The Watsonville-based Register-Pajaronian reported Thursday that the health trust now "has 45 days to put down a $4.5 million 10 percent down payment, 180 days for an additional 5 percent, and 270 days to finalize the $45.5 million sale."

Dr. Joe Gallagher, a longtime physician at the hospital, called the vote "a wonderfully historic moment for Watsonville" and expressed his "sincerest thanks to the health trust for taking this bold step."

"This is an opportunity to literally reshape the future of the health and well-being of this community," explained Dori Rose Inda, executive director of the nonprofit healthcare organization Salud Para La Gente. "Half of the Pajaro Valley community is under 21 years of age. This broad community partnership promises this future generation access to the healthcare they need to thrive and prosper."

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