California hospital taps permanent CEO amid union opposition

The San Benito Health Care District board, which oversees Hollister, Calif.-based Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, voted Jan. 25 to name Mary Casillas CEO. 

Ms. Casillas, who was originally hired as COO, has been serving as interim CEO since fall 2022. 

Her appointment to the permanent role comes as the hospital awaits a ruling on bankruptcy eligibility. The San Benito Health Care District board voted in May 2023 to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, and a federal bankruptcy court is determining the validity of the financial emergency that hospital administrators cited as the rasoning behind the filing.

The California Nurses Association, which represents nurses at the hospital, has argued that the bankruptcy filing was a drastic and unnecessary step. In December, a trial was held after the union pushed back against the San Benito Health Care District board's argument that the hospital was financially insolvent. The union also opposes Ms. Casillas' appointment.

Hazel Hawkins nurse Kelly Staley, RN, said in a statement shared with Becker's that front-line staff have seen their benefits cut and patient care has suffered while executive compensation has gone up. She criticized Ms. Casillas' lack of experience and proposed new salary, which reported as $450,000 annually.

"Hazel Hawkins should not be considering downgrading care to save money while proposing over a 30% increase to the interim CEO," Marcelle Norman, RN, said in the same emailed statement. 

The hospital, which has three potential buyers, has rejected the union's argument related to the bankruptcy filing and stood behind Ms. Casillas.

"Mary's dedication and leadership during these extremely volatile times has been nothing short of extraordinary," Board President Jeri Hernandez said in a news release shared with Becker's. "It has become clear to the board that she is the right  person for this job, and she is definitely the right person to lead us through this complex time in the hospital's history."

Ms. Casillas was brought on as COO of Hazel Hawkins and then agreed to serve as interim CEO position, Marcus Young, a hospital spokesperson, told Becker's

However, "Her salary was never adjusted to a CEO pay scale," he said. "She is basically going from the COO job and pay to the CEO position and that will include the commiserate salary for that role."


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