New lawsuits, new titles, and more changes — those were the main themes of the August 9 Tulare Local Healthcare District Board of Directors special meeting.
The meeting was called by Kevin Northcraft, Mike Jamaica and Senovia Gutierrez, all of whom were in attendance; fellow board members Linda Wilbourn, and Richard Torrez, along with Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) CEO Benny Benzeevi, were absent.
Benzeevi had previously stated that the only official board meeting is the one scheduled for August 23, and that Gutierrez is not yet a certified board member.
The three-member group voted to appoint themselves to new roles on the board and to rescind a resolution that had allowed HCCA to provide quarterly, instead of monthly, financial reports.
HCCA’s Chief Financial Officer, Alan Germany, previously requested the switch, stating that it was a way to free up the accounting staff’s resources.
They also voted to request that HCCA staff provide reports on retirement, insurance and other funding, including the current status of those obligations.
“Many of you are aware of the — how can I say it politely — spiraling down of our issues with our hospital,” Northcraft said. “Many good times are ahead for our hospital and for our employees as well.”
The trio’s last move during public session was to request hospital staff to provide monthly reports of any investigations by state or public agencies, noting that some of the hospital’s plans of corrections for prior investigations already obligated the company to provide reports to the board about after-hours surgeries and potential safety violations.
“As you all are aware — we’ve received none of those reports, so this item is directed to HCCA to immediately comply with their commitments to state and federal agencies to submit those reports to the Governing Board, being the five of us,” Northcraft said.
New Attorneys, New Lawsuits
At the meeting, Jamaica introduced the new attorneys from the firm of McCormick Barstow, which the trio had voted to bring in as the District’s new legal firm.
Three from the firm were present: Mandy Jeffcoach, Niki Cunningham and Timothy Thompson.
They’ve hit the ground running — the board came back from closed session to announce that it chose to initiate a lawsuit after consulting its new counsel.
In a statement, the board said it would disclose the defendants and scope once the suit was filed and commenced, unless doing so would jeopardize any ability to serve the suit.
Although only three members of the board were present, each nominated the other for positions on the board after a vote to remove the existing positions on the board.
By the end, Northcraft was elected the Chairman/President of the TLHCD Board, Jamaica the Vice-Chair, and Gutierrez took double duty as Secretary and Treasurer of the board.
“Normally those two positions are held by different people,” Northcraft said, “but in our case, at the current time, I would recommend that we select Senovia Gutierrez for both the secretary and treasurer’s position.”
Northcraft appointed Jamaica and Gutierrez to the board’s finance committee, but declined to make appointments to any other committees.
“We will defer the selection of other committees until we’ve had more opportunity to look into that and perhaps seek the input of our absent board members,” he said.
Change in Venue
The meeting was held at Tulare’s Masonic Temple, after the board previously moved to hold meetings at the Tulare City Hall, when available.
The change in venue came after some Tulare City Council members discussed reconsidering the policies allowing the district’s board to meet at Tulare City Hall, though it was not immediately clear whether the remarks were related.
Tulare City Councilmember Jose Sigala spoke during the hospital board meeting’s public comment section against any possible changes the council might make.
“I voted against it, but it’s coming to council in a future meeting. I want to make sure you guys keep an eye out now when that happens,” Sigala said. “Anyone who follows the rules, fills out the application, pays a fee, should be able to use the council chambers. I would encourage all of you to listen to the council meeting.”
The council voted to place an item on the agenda to discuss the issue at a future meeting, passing with a 4-1 vote, Sigala dissenting.
“If you’ve ever been in recent time to the meetings they have at their facility, they go pretty negative. Their last meeting at their own facility went very negative — to the point that where council members were getting threatened. I don’t think they should be allowed to have meetings here — especially if we have to kick up our own security,” Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones said at the City Council’s August 1 meeting.
“My position was – they have their own facilities, let them have their meetings, let them worry about their own security, and to protect our public and our library, they shouldn’t be allowed to have meetings in our chambers,” he said.
Tulare Vice-Mayor Maritsa Castellanoz agreed.
“It has gotten so bad that it’s really divided the city, and the last thing the city needs is to be pulled into this. I think that we really probably should put a rush on getting a policy together,” Castellanoz said.
Rob Hunt, the city’s director of Community Development, noted that the meetings would cause a hardship on staff as well.
“Meetings that go beyond 7pm cause a hardship on staff — I don’t have anybody past 7pm that understands all the technology and all of this,” Hunt said. “There are only a few people in the city — I can’t just have a building attendant in here.”
Jones explained his stance further.
“We recognize the types of meetings they were having in their own facilities, and they have facilities to have their own meetings. We recognize that. We saw them enticing and telling people to come to this meeting, to come have this public war,” Jones said . “It’s not about disagreeing with them. I agree with them. It’s not about taking a position — as long as you show up, and you’re respectful, and you don’t make threats, and you don’t create an environment where we have to boost up security, we’re fine with that. We’re talking about a group that did the exact opposite.”
Visalia attorney Mike Lampe spoke to the board about the recent suit filed against Dr. Benny Benzeevi, Dr. Rebecca Zulim and the Tulare Local Healthcare District.
“I want the district to know that the district has only been named because we determined that the district is an indispensible party,” Lampe said. “We’re actually trying to help the district — we’re trying to recover money from Dr. Benzeevi, Dr. Zulim and Mr. Greene that we think was improperly paid to Mr. Greene’s office, and the other law firm that was representing Zulim and Kumar.”
He also let board members know that they’ve got another suit headed their way, claiming that it was for nonpayment.
Lampe stated that he was trading emails with an opposing attorney in a separate case, and was told by the attorney, Donald Dunning of San Diego, that he’s representing a client filing suit against the hospital for nonpayment.
“Small world. The […] suit is to collect $160,000 from HCCA d/b/a Tulare Regional Medical for services rendered by a medical staffing company,” Lampe said, reading an email from Dunning.
Lampe is also representing Deanne Martin-Soares and Emily Yenigues in a suit against the district regarding alleged Public Records Act violations; that case will be headed to trial on September 11, Lampe said.
The Public Records Act suit will be heard by Hon. Judge Melinda Reed in Department 1 at 9am.