The sign at the entrance to Watsonville Community Hospital.

A March 2024 bond measure would raise more than $100 million to buy the land and buildings at Watsonville Community Hospital. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local file)

WATSONVILLE >> Leaders of the Pajaro Valley Health Care District on Wednesday night agreed to put a $116 million bond measure on the March 5 ballot to buy the buildings and land at Watsonville Community Hospital.

Residents in the Pajaro Valley Health Care District would vote on the measure, and it would require more than 66% of the vote to be adopted, said Watsonville Community Hospital spokeswoman Nancy Gere.

Stay informed on Santa Cruz County’s biggest issues.

Santa Cruz Local’s newsletter breaks down complex local topics and shows residents how to get involved.

The health care district formed in 2022 and bought the hospital’s operations, but not the land or buildings. The district now pays about $3 million in annual rent to Alabama-based Medical Properties Trust, Gere said. If voters adopt the bond measure, the district would acquire the land and buildings and make improvements.

“That is a really high priority, to get back local control,” Gere said Thursday. 

The size of the emergency department could nearly double, Gere said. Repairs could be made to roofs and plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilation systems. The money also could pay for new medical equipment for X-rays, MRI and CT scans, as well as equipment for cardiac care that patients now receive outside Santa Cruz County, Gere said. 

The 106-bed Watsonville Community Hospital near Airport Boulevard provides services to thousands of residents of South County and northern Monterey County.

A map of the Pajaro Valley Health Care District.

The Pajaro Valley Health Care District formed in February 2022 and includes parts of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. (Local Agency Formation Commission)

If adopted, the bond measure would collect about $24 for every $100,000 of assessed property value from landowners in the Pajaro Valley Health Care District. The district essentially covers Aptos to Pajaro.

The tax likely would last for 30 years. The official ballot language has not yet been published by the Santa Cruz County Clerk. 

“This bond represents an investment in the future of health care for the Pajaro Valley,” wrote John Friel, board chair of the Pajaro Valley Health Care District, in a statement.

“When the hospital almost closed in 2021 because the previous for-profit owners had a loss of $30 million that year, I think we all realized how important this facility is to all of us,” Friel wrote. 

“Together with the community, we’ve worked hard to establish a plan for financial sustainability. This bond program would help ensure not only long-term financial stability, but also allow us to expand services and upgrade our hospital to the high standard of quality this community deserves.”

The health care district is a collaboration between the County of Santa Cruz, the City of Watsonville, Salud Para La Gente and the Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley. During the hospital’s bankruptcy proceedings in January 2022, the Santa Cruz County Supervisors agreed to spend $5 million in county money toward the hospital’s operations.

Read more

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]. Santa Cruz Local is supported by members, major donors, sponsors and grants for the general support of our newsroom. Our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support. Learn more about Santa Cruz Local and how we are funded.

Learn about membership
Santa Cruz Local’s news is free. We believe that high-quality local news is crucial to democracy. We depend on locals like you to make a meaningful contribution so everyone can access our news.
Learn about membership
 | Website

Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.