16 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY june 20-26, 2024 www.montereycountynow.com Hospitals in Monterey County are some of the most expensive in the state. Why? By Pam Marino and Sara Rubin Sticker Shock Clementina Gonzalez, a hotel housekeeper from Marina, stood in a Sacramento conference room on May 23, 2023, before a committee of physicians, policymakers and industry experts. She spoke in Spanish, her daughter by her side serving as translator. “Good afternoon. My name is Clementina Gonzalez and I made a three-hour trip here to tell you about my experience with a very expensive hospital in Monterey County,” she said, detailing how 10 years earlier she was hospitalized at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula for a blood ailment requiring transfusions and other procedures. “With even the health insurance that I had, I had to pay over $10,000. And I don’t have that,” Gonzalez said. She and her family tried their best to repay the debt on time, but it went to collections, ruining her credit. Worse, the illness came back, landing Gonzalez back at CHOMP, facing more bills she couldn’t pay. “My family and I are very stressed and depressed and had to cut back on other needs just to pay these bills back,” she said, then added: “Please do what you can to help people just like me.” The floodgates were opened. For the first time, workers like Gonzalez had a powerful public platform before a regulatory board willing to hear their long-held grievances about the high cost of health care in Monterey County. Their stories included exorbitant hospital bills they couldn’t pay, along with shrinking paychecks due to ever-increasing health insurance premiums. In the months following Gonzalez’s remarks, more workers either made the trip to Sacramento or appeared online to testify remotely, mostly from unions representing employees from hospitality, agriculture and education. They were flocking to the newly formed Health Care Affordability Board, part of the Office of Health Care Affordability, created by the California Legislature in 2022. The OHCA board, led by the secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, Daniel Dreifuss Salinas Valley Health (above) has consistently received A ratings for hospital safety in recent years from the Leapfrog Group, a national health care watchdog. CHOMP received a B in 2023 and spring 2024, down from A’s in 2022. Natividad, with a B last fall and this spring, had a C in spring 2023 and a B twice in 2022. It previously scored A’s 2021.