Fear and Loathing in Tulare

No fear pertained, but a loathing still is palpable–like the proverbial bad taste left in one’s mouth. More than a week after having attended, feeling the need to be…I don’t know, scraped off, say, remains.

This is the take-away from April 27th’s Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) board of directors meeting.

TLHCD’s has been widely described as a culture rich in threat and intimidation–and while I could elaborate on that, on my sources and on my own experiences, it would be off point: From recent experience at its board meeting, I can honestly say the word “exclusion” should be added to the list of TLHCD’s cultural attributes.

I was, with a dozen or so others, shunted off into a room across the hall to listen to a hastily rigged live audio feed of the meeting being held in Conference Room Number 2. This was the first TLHCD board meeting I’ve ever attended–and it turned out, I only half-attended it: The audio was sporadic, and there was no chance of seeing the visuals.

Let me set the stage for you:

We arrived early–as warned to–for the 4pm meeting. A hospital security guard escorted us to the Allied Services Building, then stayed in the doorway of the conference room. While we thought he was being courteous, it developed instead that he had been detailed the duties of a bouncer.

All the seats–except for three, each of which had a reserved for sign affixed–were occupied, chiefly by hospital employees. This is what we had been warned about, so by 3:30 were comfortably leaning against the back wall.

I counted 29 chairs allotted to the public–perfectly reasonable for a room whose capacity was rated by the fire marshal at 49–and perfectly reflective, if in reverse, of the rationale for the number of lifeboats mounted on the Titanic. After 20 minutes, at about 3:50, all those without a seat–a lifeboat–were asked to clear the room, which went from standing-room- to sitting-room-only.

We’re talking musical chairs without the music.

No sooner had we gone into the hallway when board members began to enter the room behind us. We were then ordered by the security guard to clear the hallway; in the same breath, he informed us that the police had already been called. They showed up immediately. What this means is that TLHCD used the Tulare Police as a tactical, pre-emptive show of force–threat and intimidation–and not in reaction to any disruptive behavior on the public’s part.

Was TLHCD expecting a donnybrook to erupt now that Dr. Benzeevi, chairman and CEO of Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) which operates Tulare Regional Medical Center, had been unmasked in his furtive pamphleteering efforts against Kaweah Delta’s Measure H? Was TLHCD fearful of any kerfuffle that might be unleashed by fresh scrutiny in these and other pages?

“We didn’t have time to change it,” Sherrie Bell, TLHCD chair and president, has been quoted in regard to the venue.

Then why have already called the police? You can bet your sweet behind they planned this. Why else convene a meeting in what amounts to a hidey-hole? That we were warned it would be packed to my mind constitutes pattern.

Meanwhile, the meeting had yet to start.

And outside, in the hallway, the disruptive public–a handful of senior citizens and a local activist–were hopping mad. They had arrived five minutes behind us–still fully 25 minutes early–and had been barred from even entering the conference room.

Eventually, the seniors and the activist were seated in Conference Room 2–which returned to standing-room-only and sudden compliance with the fire marshal–and the dozen or so of us who had quietly refused to clear the hallway were ushered into another room. We were, magnanimously, not refused our right to speak during the public comment.

Let’s remember: We’re discussing public money here, and the public should be accommodated both in attendance at board meetings and in any accounting demand.

It’s no secret that the hospital will need to pass a bond–not least to bring its structures into compliance with the new seismic regulations. But no bond will never pass in this climate of mistrust and with this culture of threat, intimidation and exclusion.


3 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in Tulare

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  1. Well described Mr. Oldenbourg. Thats the culture that has been on display by this Board and CEO for some time. I’m sure the old MEC would agree since I have a feeling they were railroaded out of their place by maybe investigating the CEO for poor physician performance and anger issues by Dr Kumar. Their way or the highway.

  2. Sir, you are correct when you stated …”We were then ordered by the security guard to clear the hallway: in the same breath he informed us that the police had already been called.” … What you are not aware of is that a citizen wishing to attend the meeting and refused entrance by security made the call to the Tulare Police Dept. asking for assistance in exercising his rights under the Brown Act. When HCCA heard the phone call they then also called Tulare P.D. what they said is anyone’s guess. Tulare P.D. had already dispatched two officers to the citizens request not HCCA’s. After the arrival of the officers and conversation with HCCA as seen in your photograph, some people mostly HCCA employees were moved out of the meeting room and the second room was set up. The Tulare Police Dept. was not used by TLHCD “as a tactical, pre-emptive show of force-threat and intimidation”. They were there in response to a citizens request.

    • Thank you! I’m relieved to be wrong on this. It did not sit well with me that TLHCD would do this, and the security guard’s statement made me question it doubly. Good for the citizen who called TPD to exercise his right to attend! Full marks!

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