Healdsburg District Hospital has hired one of the first noncontract doctors in the state, thanks to the overhaul of archaic legislation.

Emerson Valdez is the first physician to be hired as an employee, rather than an independent contractor, at a critical access hospital in the state, said spokesperson Tom Boylan.

Valdez’s new position was made possible by Assembly Bill 2024, which became law as of Jan. 1. Some other hospitals in the state have said they jumped at this opportunity and directly hired physicians around the first of the year.

Prior to AB 2024, physicians were not allowed to be hired as employees. This stemmed from practices by mining companies in the late 1800s to hire company physicians who might have had conflicts of interest that undermined their ability to be forthright with employee patients.

The new law is a pilot program to be reviewed by the California Assembly in 2020 or 2021, and only pertains to the state’s 34 rural critical-access hospitals.

The measure was introduced by Assemblyman Jim Wood, a Healdsburg resident.

His office stated he recognized the needs of California’s rural hospitals and the difficulty in their ability to compete with larger metropolitan hospitals for physicians. The cost associated with opening a rural practice can be overwhelming to a new physician with student loans. Being hired directly by a hospital provides some guarantee of income while a new physician builds a patient base.

“Most young physicians would prefer to be employed by a hospital rather than go into a private practice,” Wood said.

Valdez received his degree in podiatric medicine from New York College of Podiatric Medicine. He was chief resident at Wycoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, where he became a wound-care fellow working with the hospital’s hyperbaric oxygen and wound-care center, HDH said.

Bringing Valdez on board was significant event for the hospital, according to Nancy Schmid, CEO of the Healdsburg hospital.

“We become much stronger in our ability to attract physicians who want to work in a different environment than what larger hospitals offer. I am certain Dr. Valdez will quickly appreciate the opportunity to do great things in a smaller hospital.”

Healdsburg District Hospital serves the North Sonoma County Healthcare District, which includes Windsor, Healdsburg, Geyserville, Cloverdale and Alexander Valley.

The hospital offers primary and specialty care physicians. It has an acute-care facility to treat strokes and wounds, along with other emergency care with a 15-minute average wait to see a physician.