After 49 years as a publicly run enterprise, the Mendocino Coast's only hospital and largest employer was handed over to California's largest rural healthcare provider at a balloon- and sunshine-filled ceremony May 4.
The ceremony was brief, as the hospital still has a COVID-19 pandemic to deal with, along with a top to bottom renovation of the aging facility under new and very different management.
Most of the Mendocino Coast Healthcare District's board of directors were present, but not in an official capacity. Board President Jessica Grinberg spoke briefly, joining the chorus of optimistic well-wishers.
Though the hospital is now run by a large private entity, the healthcare district remains custodian of the public funds devoted to healthcare on the Mendocino Coast.
That includes $4 million a year in property tax revenues from Measure B, a voter initiative billed as a bid to save the hospital, that passed in 2018 by a mere five votes. The healthcare district board is still in charge of spending that money.
But issues like that have faded into the background for now, in the face of COVID-19 and the end of an era at what was formerly Mendocino Coast District Hospital, now Adventist Health Mendocino Coast.
Jason Wells, President of all three of Mendocino County's hospitals now, struck a note of optimism, as might be expected on a gorgeous spring day with a task of gargantuan proporions ahead.
"The strategy is to collaborate and grow," he said.
Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller, who has engaged directly with hospital-related talks over the past year, noted the hospital's role as both a healthcare and economic lynchpin for the region.
"It's part of the economy and part of the safety net," she said.
Wayne Allen, the interim CEO who was hired by the board of directors in February 2019, essentially to accomplish the agreement that took effect Monday, handed a giant key to new CEO Judy Leach, an experienced Adventist Health executive.
With his trademark gentility and a bit of a twinkle in his eye, Allen, who's running up on 80, indicated that his plans are to head back home to Reno and relax for a while.