The Petaluma Health Care District board unanimously approved the selection of Paladin Healthcare as the next operator of Petaluma Valley Hospital on Friday. Now, it’s up to the public to vote on it June 6.

“We are going to need everybody’s help in order to get that vote approved,” said Elece Hempel, president of the health care district board. “We’re just at the base of the hill. We have a long way to go to get this thing done.”

In the next few weeks, PHCD will be hosting a series of forums and public meetings to talk about the board’s choice and address the community, while continuing negotiations on a final agreement with Paladin Healthcare and working to ensure the transition from St. Joseph Health goes smoothly. The district must provide final ballot language by March 10.

Paladin Healthcare is a Southern California-based company that operates four hospitals in California. If the voters approve, Petaluma Valley Hospital would be its first hospital in Northern California. The company also has a management services agreement with Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Gary Frazier, senior managing director of business development for Paladin, spent two days in Petaluma, getting to know the hospital, its people and the community.

“We had meetings from 7 a.m. to 7 or 8 at night,” he said. “When you look at something quantitatively, or in writing, but then you go and spend a couple days seeing what you’ve read about, you get more of a feel for what’s happening in the community.”

In Friday’s board meeting, Ramona Faith, CEO of the Petaluma Healthcare District, said Paladin made it clear they will maintain core services and honor hospital workers’ current union contracts. Employment for current Petaluma Valley Hospital staffers in good standing is guaranteed for six months.

“One of our concerns has always been the employees of the hospital,” said Fran Adams, PHCD board secretary, about her vote for Paladin. “I’ve been there and I know how scary that was when we transitioned to St. Joseph, so we were looking for verbiage that really protected our employees. ... (Paladin was) always very respectful and concerned about keeping the staff that we had.”

The search for a new operator for the publicly-owned Petaluma Valley Hospital began in earnest when talks with St. Joseph Health ended abruptly in the fall. Neither side was able to agree on financial terms, but the main sticking point was the Catholic hospital’s policy choice not to offer a full range of women’s health services.

After those talks fell through, the board sent out requests for proposals in November 2016, and bids were due Jan. 31. Bids were also received from KPC Health Inc. and Pipeline Health, which currently operates Sonoma West Medical Center.

“To be able to look at Petaluma, and speak to the people here and understand the community, it really gives you a nice 360-degree view of what’s happened and what needs to happen moving forward,” Frazier said.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.