All documents referenced in this story can be found at our TLHCD/HCCA Documents page.
Tulare Regional Medical Center’s Board of Directors filed its response to the Tulare County Grand Jury on May 31, writing a full-throated critique of the Grand Jury’s report, which it characterized as a mix of inaccuracies and misplaced blame.
The five-page response — coupled with the run-up to the August Measure I special election — has led to a back-and-forth in local media (both print and social) between the hospital’s critics, the board, Measure I supporters, and even the foreman of the Grand Jury.
“Sins of the Father”
The Tulare Local Healthcare District (TLHCD) Board of Directors accused the Grand Jury of presenting biased findings and working to deliberately inflame public opinion against the current board, and claims that the Grand Jury has subpoenaed two board members after the “Tower of Shame” report was released.
“This Report is long on conclusions but short on facts. It is grossly incomplete, misleading and is based in part upon speculation and opinion,” the board wrote. “Moreover, the very fact that this grand jury would entitle a report ‘Tower of Shame,’ and by its own admission release the Report earlier than the customary time, knowing that this would excite the media and inflame the general public, disappointedly shows unmitigated bias against TRMC.”
Since the “Tower of Shame” report was released, the body released two more reports on its own and outside of the usual timeframe, entitled “Justice for All?” and “Nightmare in Lindsay.”
The district also points to four accountant’s reports, commissioned by two separate financial firms, which it states “found no wrongdoing” and are proof that the district has been forthcoming with bond-related financial documents.
All four reports the board refers to are “accountant’s reports,” and three carry disclaimers that state:
“We [the financial firm] were not engaged to and did not conduct an examination, the objective of which would be the expression of an opinion on the District’s compliance with the provisions of the Bond Documents: we do not express such an opinion. Had we performed additional procedures, other matters might have come to our attention that would have been reported to you.”
While the documents are not accessible on the hospital’s website, the Voice received copies of the four reports, invoices for Fiscal Year 2013-15, bond general ledgers, and an index of invoices from the hospital. These documents are available for viewing and download at ourvalleyvoice.com.
The Grand Jury issued three recommendations to the board: undergo training on transparency and disclosure, fully disclose how bond funds were spent, and seat a new Bond Oversight Committee.
The TLHCD Board stated that it undergoes annual training regarding its responsibilities, and that it was well aware of its obligations surrounding transparency and disclosure requirements.
The Voice issued multiple requests to the district that would confirm such training took place, including invoices from outside trainers, training certificates, or training curriculum. The district’s legal counsel stated that it had not been able to locate any such records, though it would continue to search for them.
In its response to the Grand Jury, the board also stated that it does not need to work on further disclosures relating to bond funds, pointing to the four accountant’s reports previously mentioned.
Finally, the board states that it will vote on disbanding the current Bond Oversight Committee at its next meeting, though it will not seat a new committee to oversee the $85m bond, citing the four financial reports and the full expenditure of those bond funds.
Whose Blame Is It Anyway?
The current board also stated that a number of the Grand Jury findings should only apply to prior boards, and that it did not have the information to respond to five of the Grand Jury’s seven findings, going on to state that the current board should not be made to answer for any “misdeeds” by prior boards.
“This report purports to blame the Current Board for the misdeeds of the Prior Boards. This is manifestly unfair by anyone’s standards,” the board wrote. “The current Board, consisting of Sherrie Bell, Parmod Kumar, M.D., Richard Torrez, Linda Wilbourn and Laura Gadke (the “Current Board”) has only been seated since May 2015.”
Current board members Parmod Kumar, M.D. and Richard Torrez have been on the Board during at least part of the bond expenditure, and board member Linda Wilbourn previously served on the Bond Oversight Committee.
The response states that the current board has not withheld documents from the Bond Oversight Committee, and that the previously mentioned financial reports were provided to the committee, further stating that its analysis of Bond Oversight Committee minutes show no complaints relating to transparency issues. The Voice requested, and received, all minutes from the Bond Oversight Committee meetings, which are available at ourvalleyvoice.com.
The response also takes issue with the Grand Jury’s analysis of the tower project as “nonfunctional,” stating that “a substantial portion of the Tower Project has been completed, and will be functional if and when additional funds are made available to complete the construction.”
In response to claims that the board failed to understand the cost gap between the $85m original bond and over $100m in project costs, the board states that it has “insufficient information” to address the finding, going so far as to call out a former board member in a thinly-veiled statement:
“However, it can be noted that one of the most outspoken critics of the handling of the bond funds was actually on Prior Boards (from December 2002 through November 2008), which includes the time when the bonds were authorized and issued. If anyone should be answering to a Grand Jury, or to the community, it is her as well as the other members of the Prior Boards at that time,” the response stated, likely referring to Deanne Martin-Soares, who served during that timeframe and has since criticized the board’s handling of the bond oversight.
The board finally takes issue with the characterization of its settlement with Harris Construction as “court-ordered,” stating the settlement was entered voluntarily, and that the district retained the right to pursue claims against the prior architects and subcontractors involved in the original construction of the tower.
Prior Board Members Respond
Martin-Soares, along with other board members that previously served, issued their own response to the TLHCD board’s statement. The entirety of their response is available on the Voice’s website and in this issue’s commentary & letters section.
“The allegation that the current board was not seated until May, 2015 is blatantly incorrect. The present member Parmod Kumar, M.D. has served more than 20 years, Richard Torrez since 2008, Sherrie Bell since 2012, and Laura Gadke since about 2013,” the members wrote. “Dr. Kumar has served as Chairman of the Board for a span of about six years and as Chairman of several important committees during the years in question such as the Bond Oversight Committee and the Building Committee. The current board is populated by several members who had responsibilities and voting rights in the timeframe the Bond was expended.”
The prior board members, Lonnie R. Smith M.D., Prem Kamboj M.D., Leroy Trippel, Martin-Soares, and Victor Gonzalez, signed the letter, which was also published in the Visalia Times-Delta.
Grand Jury Foreman Responds to Response
In a letter to the Valley Voice, available in the opinion section of this edition, the foreman of the Tulare County Grand Jury directly responded to the board’s statement that it should not be held to account for the actions of prior boards.
“It is apparent to the Grand Jury that the members of the TRMC Board of Directors need to be reminded that reporting/disclosure requirements are continuous. In other words, the claim that all misdeeds and transgression were ‘someone else’s responsibility’ is at best flawed and leaves the impression that obfuscation as well as outright refusal to provide information are preferred to full disclosure,” Chuck White, the foreman of the Grand Jury, wrote.
“The ‘Blame Game’ is unproductive. It is also unbecoming to those who employ it. The Grand Jury would, therefore, suggest that the TRMC Board of Directors instruct its Los Angeles legal counsel to, ‘without delay,’ respond appropriately to the Grand Jury’s request for detailed information pertaining to how $85 Million in taxpayers’ money was expended.”
TLHCD Board Responds to Foreman’s Response
Shortly before the Voice was sent to the presses, a representative of a Los Angeles-based public relations firm the board has hired contacted the Voice, submitting a response to the foreman’s response on behalf of the TLHCD board, stating that the foreman’s statements are “grandstanding” criminal acts. The full response is available in the Valley Voice’s commentary & letters section.
“California law makes it a misdemeanor for grand jury members to publicly discuss proceedings and evidence. Chuck White and John Hobbs, another member of the Grand Jury, have both repeatedly violated this law,” the statement reads. “Every crime has a motive. Mr. White’s motive is very clear: He wants to promote himself and develop a reputation in the community.”
“TLHCD from the beginning has been willing to work closely with the Grand Jury to examine the expenditure of the first bond,” the statement continues. “Now, because of Mr. White’s actions, it is increasingly clear that he is motivated by only one thing – publicity – instead of his very important role as the leader of a body that is supposed to help improve local government.”