Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 2, 2008

On anger and trust

“The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy.” ~ Thomas J. Watson

One line jumped out at me when I read a recent article reporting that Saint Louise Regional Hospital officials in Gilroy are hoping to raise $10 to $20 million to expand medical services at the original Saint Louise Hospital in Morgan Hill.

The line was Saint Louise CEO Joanne Allen’s admission that “It was a bad assumption that the Morgan Hill folks would come to Gilroy.” Paraphrasing, I said, “Ya think?” Actually, my reaction used a profane alliteration involving Sherlock Holmes’ first name, but you get the drift.

Allen noted that many Morgan Hill residents work in the northern parts of Santa Clara County and speculated that’s the reason many don’t seek medical care in Gilroy. That’s one reason — and it’s one that should have been obvious to Saint Louise officials in 1999 when they were deciding which hospital to close — but it doesn’t tell the entire story.

After Morgan Hill’s hospital closed, a Bible college purchased the buildings and land and asked the city to rezone it so that they could use them as classrooms and dormitories.

In the end, city officials chose to risk a costly lawsuit from the Bible college rather than rezone the facility and let the dream of a full-service local hospital die.

As a reporter covering Morgan Hill city hall at the time, I can tell you that there was a lot of anger about the decision to close the city’s hospital, take the name and “consolidate” hospital services in Gilroy.

Many Morgan Hill residents gave considerable time and money to make the original Saint Louise Hospital — the facility in Morgan Hill, not to be confused with the renamed facility in Gilroy — a reality.

When it became clear that South County could not support two full-service hospitals, Morgan Hill residents had good reasons to hope their hospital would remain open. Morgan Hill’s hospital was better located, with easy freeway access, unlike the hospital in Gilroy. Gilroyans considering seeking medical care in North County would pass the Morgan Hill facility. Morgan Hill residents deciding to go north for medical care would not pass the Gilroy hospital.  An employee who worked at both hospitals told me that the Morgan Hill hospital was much better built.

Nevertheless, hospital officials closed the Morgan Hill facility, and heaped insult upon injury plastering “Saint Louise” on the Gilroy facility. The anger in Morgan Hill was palpable and justified. I’ve heard lots of folks talk about Morgan Hill’s “stolen” hospital. While the anger isn’t fresh, nearly ten years later, much of it remains.

So it should be no surprise now – nor should it have been difficult to predict ten years ago — that many Morgan Hill residents spend their healthcare dollars in San Jose and points north. Not only are many more facility and physician choices available there than in Gilroy, but by spending their healthcare dollars elsewhere, Morgan Hill residents aren’t supporting the facility that betrayed their community. I believe that’s important to many of my neighbors.

When it looked like Coyote Valley might be developed, many in Morgan Hill hoped that a population explosion north of the city’s borders would create enough demand for medical services that the original Saint Louise could reopen as a full-service hospital. That dream died along with Coyote Valley development plans.

Now, nearly a decade after the painful hospital consolidation, Allen wants to raise millions of dollars to open some sort of “in-between” medical facility in Morgan Hill.

I wish her well.

Allen wasn’t around when the decision to close the Morgan Hill facility was made, didn’t overlook the location and facility flaws inherent in the Gilroy facility and didn’t make the “bad assumption” that Morgan Hill residents would ignore the insult and seek medical care in Gilroy.

But she’s stuck with the consequences of those decisions. To succeed in her fundraising efforts in Morgan Hill, she must overcome lots of ill will and mistrust. Morgan Hill residents trusted the Daughters of Charity with their time and money more than a decade ago, only to see the results of their hard work and hard-earned dollars shuttered and largely empty.

I hope Allen is successful. More in-town medical services would be good for Morgan Hill’s economy and convenient for residents. But I don’t envy her the difficult task of restoring trust.

“Trust dies, but mistrust blossoms.” ~ Sophocles

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