PRESS RELEASE: Senator John Laird’s Legislation to Protect Health Care Access for Pajaro Valley Residents Moves to Assembly Floor
Contact: Richard Stapler
SACRAMENTO – State Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) is authoring urgency legislation, Senate Bill 418, to preserve access to health care for Pajaro Valley residents by forming a health care district and allowing the return to public ownership of Watsonville Community Hospital.
Today, SB 418 received unanimous bipartisan support in Assembly Local Government Committee. The bill now heads to the Assembly Floor for a vote of the full house.
SB 418 would form a health care district establishing public oversight should the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project be successful in its attempts to acquire the hospital from current ownership. Due to the precarious future of the hospital, the bill is proposed as urgency legislation needed to preserve the public peace, health, or safety under Article IV of the California Constitution.
Co-authors of SB 418 include Assemblymembers Robert Rivas (D-Salinas) and Mark Stone (D- Monterey Bay), and Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) whose districts share jurisdiction of those who receive services through Watsonville Community Hospital.
“The successful passage of SB 418 will ensure the continued provision of vital services to the community and protect the jobs of those who work tirelessly to keep Pajaro Valley residents and their loved ones healthy,” emphasized Laird. “It is our responsibility as a state to ensure no person, parent, or child is left without access to care.”
Watsonville Community Hospital serves an area with disproportionately low household income and access to quality housing, transportation and health care, according to the California Healthy Places Index. Forty-three percent of the hospital’s gross revenue comes from the state Medi-Cal program, and 30 percent of its gross revenue comes from the federal Medicare program serving the elderly and disabled.
“Access to quality healthcare has never been more critical,” stated Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). “SB 418 will ensure that care is provided to residents that desperately need high quality affordable health care services. It is up to us to ensure that our residents are healthy and safe.”
Following two decades of ownership changes, Watsonville Community Hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December. The County of Santa Cruz, the City of Watsonville, the Community Health Trust of the Pajaro Valley and Salud Para La Gente formed the Pajaro Valley Health District Project, a non-profit whose goal is to facilitate a sale through the bankruptcy process and avoid any closure of the hospital. Currently, the hospital remains open and offers a full range of medical services.
Board member of Pajaro Valley Healthcare District, Mimi Hall shared, “Given the hospital’s bankruptcy status, this legislation is the only pathway to preserving access to health care, creating accountability and addressing glaring health disparities for the people of the Pajaro Valley. We are grateful to our entire delegation for the urgent and focused attention they brought to this matter, and we look forward to seeing this bill become law in the not-too-distant future.”
If adopted, SB 418 provides the Board of Directors of the Pajaro Valley Health Care District five years to divide the District into zones representative of the community. Those zones would be subject to local elections.
Assemblymember Mark Stone affirms, “SB 418 is the first step in creating a sustainable healthcare district that will ensure the residents of the Pajaro Valley have access to reliable care.”
“Time is of the essence in health care, and having affordable options in our small and rural communities saves lives,” noted Assemblymember Robert Rivas. “Keeping the Watsonville Community Hospital open is crucial to guaranteeing every Central Coast resident has access to the care they need.”
Public and private funding for the acquisition of Watsonville Community Hospital is being sought separately.
“I thank our regional leaders who remain active partners in this effort to protect and expand health care access for the residents of Pajaro Valley and surrounding communities,” said Laird. “The introduction of SB 418 reflects progress toward resolution on this critical issue and a pathway forward for Watsonville Community Hospital.”
Senator John Laird represents the 17th State Senate District, which includes all of Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties, the majority of Monterey County, as well as parts of Santa Clara County. He previously served as the Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, member of the State Integrated Waste Management Board, a member of the State Assembly, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Aids Project, and two terms as Santa Cruz Mayor. His lifetime of public service and social justice advocacy saw him become one of the first openly gay mayors to serve in the United States. Senator Laird has been a long-time resident of Santa Cruz with his spouse John Flores.