Political Fix (7 September, 2017)

“It’s the Tulare Way”

Recently, an informant called saying that Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC) allegedly hadn’t paid its utility bills since April.

Then I interviewed a grieving daughter whose mother had been buried in the wrong plot at the Tulare Public Cemetery, and later a prominent Tulare businessman called with some outrageous, but consistent, complaints about Tulare’s mayor.

I looked over at my husband in disbelief and he said “It’s the Tulare way.”

I don’t know where we first heard it, or who first said it, but every time something spurious happens in Tulare my husband gets that look in his eyes and I know exactly what he is thinking.

Now with issues surfacing about the Tulare Public Cemetery, the city’s problems have come full circle. They literally have the residents of Tulare coming and going.

But what gets my knickers in a twist is mostly the hospital.

How did $50 million in bond money become unaccounted for, and no one is held accountable?

Why are the hospital employees’ pay checks bouncing?

How is Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) being paid $268,000 a month, but the utilities are not?

How is it that patients have died of nonlethal causes and the doctors responsible are still practicing?

Why aren’t Tulare residents’ votes being respected?

We all know that Lindsay Mann was Kaweah Delta’s CEO and that he was just replaced with Gary Herbst.

But who is the CEO of the Tulare’s public hospital and why can’t we see that CEO’s form 700 or conflict of interests forms?

The most gnawing question – why are the residents of one of the poorest counties in California expected to resolve these problems on their own?

Where are our elected officials?

So, even though I am not the one reporting on the hospital, I stopped everything I was doing and decided to write our elected officials whose districts overlap that of TRMC.

I wrote Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward, State Senator Jean Fuller, Congressman Devin Nunes and State Assemblyman Devon Mathis.

I didn’t think of writing Mayor Carlton Jones because it seems he has already aligned himself with HCCA.

This is what they had to say.

First off, the most useful piece of information came from a staffer, who did not want to go on the record, but said that when there has been a misuse of public money it needs to be immediately reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

Note to Alberto Aguilar, who meticulously cobbled together the financial information on the $85 million Hospital Bond passed in 2005 to discover $50 million was unaccounted for – call the FBI.

The same staffer said that the FBI cannot reveal when they are in the middle of an investigation, insinuating that maybe an investigation has already been opened.

The first direct response I got was from Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward.

He had me talk with Assistant District Attorney Dave Alavezos, which didn’t get any further than a phone call.

But Mr. Alavezos commiserated with my frustration and said several times, “Well that’s a very good question.”

He asked me to forward my letter so he could discuss it with Mr. Ward. I did, and like the rest of Tulare, I am still waiting.

Chief of Staff for Congressman Devin Nunes, Anthony Ratekin, was well versed in the goings on at the hospital and encouraged me to send him my letter.

Rep. Nunes, time permitting, would respond after they had a chance to discuss it.

The next day Mr. Ratekin called and said they had a lengthy conversation but that, in the end, Mr. Nunes is a federally elected official and that unfortunately “there is no role for a federal officer in a local public hospital.”

I whined, saying, “but he is from Tulare!”

To which Mr. Ratekin responded that while elected to congress anything Rep. Nunes does represents the federal government first and because of that he is a Tularean second.

State Senator Jean Fuller was the only one to directly answer my letter and her response was pretty awesome. Here is just part of her letter.

“The TRMC is run by an elected board and they represent the public they serve.  These officials must be held accountable for the decisions that impact the hospital’s finances and ability to deliver medical services. 

The California Department of Public Health is responsible for licensing hospitals including TRMC.  I will inquire with their legislative and regulatory affairs units to get a report on what actions have already been to taken to address the issues highlighted in your letter. 

Also, the TRMC must adhere to FPPC reporting requirements, provide public records when required, and follow the laws that allow them to maintain their license.  To file a complaint with the FPPC use this link:http://www.fppc.ca.gov/enforcement/electronic-complaint-system.html or call (916) 322-5660.”

She continued, “if the Tulare Regional Medical Center believes I can be of assistance in facilitating meetings with officials, making inquiries of state agencies, or coordinating communications with state regulators, I encourage them to contact me or my office.

What struck me most though was when she said “….. my office can begin the process to request the State Auditor to look into the appropriate use of bond money……

Gee, where have we heard that before? Requesting a “state auditor to look into the appropriate use of bond money?”

In December of 2015 Alberto Aguilar asked Assemblyman Devon Mathis to request an audit of the $85 million bond because $50 million had not been accounted for.

Mr. Aguilar got no response after several attempts.

When Mr. Aguilar finally caught up to Mr. Mathis to ask him personally why he never responded to his letters, Mr. Mathis said to Mr. Aguilar that he wouldn’t do it because he owed Dr. Benzeevi, CEO of HCCA, a favor.

Mathis denies the allegation.

Now HCCA has again been accused of a misuse of public funds. HCCA made a secret loan in March of 2016 of taxpayer money to the tune of $500,000 to Southern Inyo Health District in Lone Pine.

This loan happened without the knowledge or approval of the TRMC board and was only detected through the minutes of Lone Pine Hospital’s Board meeting.

TRMC, HCCA, and Southern Inyo Health District only have one public servant in common: Assemblyman Devon Mathis.

That common denominator connects generous campaign donations from HCCA, to not ordering the audit, to then recommending to Inyo County Supervisor Matt Kingsley that HCCA be the managing company for Southern Inyo Hospital District.

It’s nice to know that someone has Mr. Mathis’ ear.

As for my letter? Maybe I should have included a campaign donation.

At the end of the day I got a few sympathetic ears, a suggestion to contact the FBI and finally a representative willing to request an audit.

But we still don’t have an answer as to why the citizens of Tulare have been left to fight on their own a multi-million dollar company with its cadre of Los Angeles attorneys, PR experts and accountants.

We do know however that Mr. Mathis just accepted a recent donation of $4,400 from HCCA for his 2018 reelection campaign.

I wonder how that makes those TRMC employees feel whose pay checks have bounced?

Maybe the employees are just resigned in accepting “it’s the Tulare way.”

Cats, food, and the miracle on the Willamette River

My older daughter, Teddy, who lives in Portland, called me crying at the beginning of August.

She was recovering from recent surgery, her roommate was leaving town, and she didn’t want to spend her 27th birthday alone.

Her and her brother’s birthday, my late son Alex, are only one week apart. She didn’t think she could handle that, either.

My youngest child, Mercedes, just turned 18, so I thought why shouldn’t I just hop on a plane? And while I’m at it I’ll stay for a couple of weeks and watch the eclipse.

Teddy was thrilled–then said, “What eclipse?”

Mercedes on the other hand was not thrilled.

She did not agree with my assessment that I am now a free woman and thought 18 was a pretty arbitrary number for me to pluck from the sky and consider her an adult.

Mercedes was always a clingy child. Every time I left home she would peer out the window and watch as my car disappeared down our long driveway and fret that I would never be back.

Teddy would tell her she is right, that I was going to get into a car accident and she would ever see me again.

At 12 years old, Teddy thought that was absolutely hilarious. Mercedes is still traumatized.

Not much has changed.

So I bought a one-way ticket, packed my carry-on, backpack and Nikes and waived goodbye to 100-plus degree heat.

To say that Portlanders are foodies is an understatement. The streets are lined with one restaurant after another, all full of happy diners whether it’s a weekend or the middle of the week.

For Teddy’s birthday we chose a place from the Food Network that hand stretched their noodles. Teddy pulled an almost three foot long noodle out of her soup that looked like something featured on Animal Planet’s The Monster Inside Me, but it was still delicious.

The next day Teddy’s scrawny kitten had goop in its eyes which warranted an emergency run to the vet.

This is where I need to apologize to all the Tulare County folk I accused of being crazy cat people, especially those who tend to the Mooney Grove cats.

Portlanders were about to put them all to shame.

I sat with my jaw in my lap as the vet and Teddy cooed for 15 minutes over how her scrawny, and quite honestly pretty ugly, kitten fell asleep on the pillow next to her shoulder even though she was in the doctor’s office. Gasp!

The appointment hadn’t even started yet so I thought I’d collect my sanity in the reception area. There I saw a flyer for what I initially thought was a home garden tour. But I read it again and realized it was a “catio” home tour – “catio” being a play on the word “patio.”

Cat fanatics were invited to tour homes that had enclosed their patios to create a kitty play ground that simulated the real outdoors. Why they couldn’t just open their front door, give their cat a quick kick in the rear, then close the door behind them, I don’t know.

Too bad I wasn’t going to be in town for the catio tour but we did have time to make reservations at Purrington’s cat lounge. It’s the only cat lounge in the Pacific Northwest, and for eight bucks you can spend 45 minutes sipping vanilla chai while being ignored and scoffed at by “adoptable” cats.

I did glean some useful information while waiting at the vet’s. The front desk ladies gave me the lowdown on the local news about the eclipse. They said they were already stressed out even though it was still ten days away.

Portland alone, with a population of 600,000, was expecting 500,000 visitors in the span of two days. The local news was reporting that Oregon was going to possibly deploy the National Guard to handle the crowds, that the state was going to run out of gas, and that the store shelves would be empty.

I had been toying with the idea of driving to the cute little Oregon town of Madras the morning of the eclipse to experience totality. But then I discovered that Madras was “ground zero” for all the eclipse fanatics and that several hundred thousand people had thought about it before I had.

There wasn’t going to be totality in Portland, but I decided after hearing of the impending chaos, I could live with 99.6%. So Teddy and I bought our Fred Myers eclipse glasses early and planned on watching it along the Willamette River behind Teddy’s apartment building.

Teddy and I did touristy things during the day and cooked dinner and chatted in her apartment every evening. I would end my night walking along the riverfront while she caught up on Big Brother or America’s Got Talent.

On the day of the eclipse we bought a caramel latte and joined the crowd that had started to accumulate on the river walk.

We put on our glasses and sat Indian style on the ground watching the sun disappear behind the moon. The light turned an eerie grey, the shadows filtering through the trees formed little crescents, the birds and crickets stopped singing and the traffic went silent.

At the peak of the eclipse the street lamps lining the river flickered on as if it were dusk. And as I sat there knee to knee with Teddy I forgot about the rest of the world. I forgot that I lost my son, I forgot about the eviction and all the lawsuits. We just sat there in total peace enjoying a miracle of the universe and the miracle of being a mother and daughter.

17 thoughts on “Political Fix (7 September, 2017)

  1. Catherine, you write so well. I loved your column. You always tell it like it is and this is one long time Tularean who appreciates the ongoing efforts of The Valley Voice to keep our community informed with accurate reporting. Thank you!

  2. It certainly looks like every politician that can help has turned a blind eye.
    The old saying is true.. money talks.. so much for a democratic vote. Guess it doesnt apply to Tulare/HCCA.

  3. Having lived in Tulare for over 70 years I remember when the Tulare way was so much better …… just like the water in Tulare used to be so much better. Keep up the good work and coverage Valley Voice….you are the only true newspaper in town these days. I remember when the Tulare Advance Register used to be so much better….now it barely passes as a local newspaper. The same goes for the Visalia Times Delta.

  4. I can promise you this: As a citizen of Tulare for nearly 40 years, all of these officials looking to be re-elected in 2018, will NOT have my vote, the votes of my family, or anyone who’ll listen to what I have to say about how corrupt the local government is in my hometown! No amount of money will convince me to keep these crooks on board when they’ve failed at their jobs and failed to adequately serve in the best interest of the people. YOU CAN TAKE THAT TO THE BANK!

  5. I understand that our congressman, the DA and the mayor are not doing much.
    However, neither is our hospital’s board of directors. Mrs Gutierrez was elected two months ago, and I can not see what she has done so far. Attending a fund raiser for the hospital, or changing the time of the board meeting to 6:30 PM are not enough. The same goes for Mr Northcraft and Mr Jamaica. You have been elected, now please DO SOMETHING.

  6. How can you say that Mrs. Gutierrez, Mr. Northcraft and Mr. Jamaica have not done anything? Mrs. Gutierrez has not been recognized “by the Board” and every time Mr. Northcraft or Mr. Jamaica have tried to changed or request any kind of transparency they have been voted down! They have tried and will continue to try to change things for the better, I just hope that the people of Tulare see that they are trying to change and bring back Tulare District Hospital to the hospital it use to be,

    • I am one hundred percent against the thief Benzeevi and his corrupt colleagues. However, I continue to believe that the new board majority has not achieved anything yet. Benzeevi is still in power and nothing has been changed. That is my observation. Thank you.

  7. TRMC emoyee, when Dr. Benzveei himself in court on monday said she isn’t recognized yet and refuse to settle a case, even though the board agreed to settlement which include Mrs Gutierrez. He wants a trial that will cost hospital in attorney fees 170,000.00. He is the crook. They (new board) resended the resolution that HCCA could not have control to go look for loan, he is ignoring. Why is a CT Scanner that is owned by TRMC down at Sothern Inyo hospital without permission, being sold by Southern Inyo. This is a fact, it is is their board minutes from last meeting down there. The old board screwed this hospital and us citizens

  8. So, I criticize the Valley Voice writer for slamming our mayor, and the city in general instead of sticking to the issue of the hospital, and Walah! my comment disappears. You people are no different than any other political group. Tip: you keep trashing Benzeevi, and he’ll fight you people even harder. don’t you think he reads these comments too?

  9. All employees in food services, maintenance, and housekeeping-all of which are outsourced received termination notices.This came about because the district owes the out sourced company over 1 million dollars . So HCCA hired them all back. With what money?? They (Benny) has depleted all money the district had while racking up massive debt and paying himself unreasonable fees!!!

  10. HCCA has to be fired. The district is acquiring more debt than the public is aware of!Cancel their contract–they will demand money–let them sue us. They can stand in line–behind all the other creditors and the many other law suits they have created!

  11. I am glad our worthy DA has finally ‘seen the light’ and decided to help uphold the law. He is the ” Chief Law Enforcer” for the county. Thank you Mr Ward. Better late than never !
    My question is to rest of the elected officers , City Council , Pete Vanderpool and Mathis : when will you guys wake up and care for your citizens or you only care for your Donors ? Shame on you guys for hiding and letting the hospital die !!

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