Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: North County owes a lot to Gene Ernst

I read with a sense of loss about the March 9 passing of Gene Ernst. I had the opportunity to meet Gene in 2004, as I was called upon by the San Luis Obispo Medical Society to nominate an individual whose accomplishments in health care should be recognized for lifetime achievement. I was a relative newcomer to our community and certainly did not have the “community memory” needed to make such a nomination.

So, I turned to a few North County leaders, Dee Lacey, Ray Johnson and Frank Mecham among others, to get their perspectives about the people who shaped our health care community. Independently, each told me to talk to Gene Ernst, who had the history I sought.

I met with Gene to understand what he knew about the individuals whose work in health care should be recognized. I was immediately struck by Gene’s quick laugh, sense of humor and his ability to tell an engaging story.

As our conversation continued, I became aware of the magnitude of the contributions made by Gene in the North County. Rancher, farmer, philanthropist, trustee, civic leader and honored Marine are but a few of the descriptions, but it was his role as president of the board of directors of the War Memorial Hospital District in the early ’70s and his leadership in partnering with civic and elected leaders in Atascadero to reconfigure hospital services in the North County that awakened me.

Here was the individual I would recommend to be honored by the Medical Society.

Through Gene’s leadership, the civic and elected leaders of Atascadero and Paso Robles came to the conclusion that both communities would need to join forces and construct a single facility in a location equally convenient to both cities (the Twin Cities), to provide the level of hospital services needed.

Twin Cities Community Hospital exists today because Gene and his fellow civic leaders of the time had the vision to move our medical communities forward.

Gene’s legacy in North County health care was honored by the Medical Society in October 2004, when he was selected to receive the Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Rick Lyons is chief executive officer of Twin Cities Community Hospital.