Tulare Hospital Board Member Facing Recall Effort

Sherrie Bell and Parmod Kumar at September's TLHCD Board Meeting. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice
Sherrie Bell and Parmod Kumar at September’s TLHCD Board Meeting. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

Dr. Parmod Kumar’s days on the Tulare hospital board may be numbered.

During the November 8 election, Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) board incumbents—Chairwoman Sherrie Bell and Linda Gadke, who have been central to several controversies there—were rejected harshly at the polls, losing their seats by a two-to-one margin. Now, a recall of Kumar has been certified by the Elections Office.

No date has been set for the recall vote.

The petitions calling for Kumar’s ouster were circulated by Citizens for Hospital Accountability, and the grassroots group’s statement of intent to recall was delivered to Kumar by Alberto Aguilar, a former member of TLHCD’s Bond Oversight Committee (BOC), at a meeting of the TLHCD just prior to the election.

Kumar did not respond to a request to discuss the recall.

‘Not an Honest Person’

“He is a very unethical person,” Aguilar said of Kumar. “He’s just not an honest person.”

As a member of the BOC, Aguilar was tasked in 2008 with monitoring the spending of $85 million in bond funding approved by voters three years earlier for the construction of the Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC) expansion project. He soon found discrepancies in the accounting and evidence bond funds were being spent on projects not involved with building the hospital’s new wing. Kumar and other board members, Aguilar said, were aware of irregularities and refused to provide the BOC with full documentation of how the bond money had thus far been spent.

Ironically, it was Kumar’s influence that put Aguilar on the BOC. Aguilar was appointed to the BOC by former board member Rosalinda Avitia, who resigned last year, but his membership was rejected by the TLHCD Board. Kumar wrote Aguilar a letter of recommendation, and the vote was reversed.

“Miraculously, I got the most votes and ended up on the Committee,” Aguilar said. “Once I got approval from the Board, I started asking questions. I wanted to know what kind of training the people on the Committee got, to see the prior audits, to see where the money was going. Within two months, I found out money was being spent on things it should not be spent on. Even the (outside) auditors said they weren’t spending the money where they should be.”

Aguilar presented those concerns to the Board at a meeting held on October 23, 2013, and the minutes show Kumar denied the accusations.

Federal Fines

Aguilar’s objections at that meeting included a discussion of the hospital’s corporate integrity agreement with the Office of the Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services (OIG), as well as the possibility of OIG’s investigations of TLHCD being reopened.

Kumar said at the time Aguilar did not fully understand the inner workings of the BOC, and he said TLHCD had a good relationship with the OIG. To the best of his knowledge, Kumar told Aguilar, there were no issues with the OIG. The conversation is detailed in the TLHCD’s public records.

Yet in 2009, the District had agreed to pay a $2.4 million settlement after an OIG investigation found TLHCD had “submitted claims to the Medicare system as part of a scheme to illegally reimburse doctors who referred patients to Tulare Healthcare.”

The District was under investigation again in 2013 when a former TLHCD Board member contacted the OIG with accusations of illegal behavior by Kumar and improper contracts between Kumar and the District. Specifically, Kumar was alleged to have improperly earned more than $800,000 over a two-year period by seeing up to 64 patients during four-hour shifts at TLHCD’s Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC).

TLHCD admitted to no wrongdoing in the 2009 settlement. Kumar and his wife, Dr. Parul Gupta, both resigned their jobs with TLHCD’s FQHCs following the opening of the OIG’s second investigation.

The OIG began its investigations of TLHCD after its former CFO, Maria Lucy Reimche, alleged in a lawsuit that the TLHCD paid its physicians illegal kickbacks for sending their patients to TRMC for treatment. Additionally, a 2014 investigation by the OIG found TLHCD had overcharged Medicare by nearly $200,000 in 2011 and 2012. TLHCD has since repaid the feds and agreed to strengthen its control of its billing department.

‘They Were Aware’

Meanwhile, Aguilar remained dogged in his investigation despite Board resistance.

“They didn’t like me inquiring on why this money was being spent on this stuff,” he said. “They stopped giving me information. That’s basically been their M.O. under Dr. Kumar.”

The numbers and documents he had on hand, along with information from other sources, was enough for him to put together a detailed report of how the bond money had been spent, and apparently misspent. It was also enough for him to know the accounting was being deliberately obscured, he said.

He made sure the Board knew he knew.

“I hand-delivered my report to their homes,” Aguilar said. “Dr. Kumar sat at every (BOC) meeting, as was the Board president. They were aware it wasn’t being spent the way it was supposed to be spent.”

Change Orders

One of the first irregularities Aguilar noticed was a high number of change orders for the project. He found at least dozens recorded, but the real number was much higher, he said, and those orders included spending on projects that had nothing to do with the expansion. The information came from Healthcare Conglomerate Associate’s (HCCA) construction manager, Aguilar said. HCCA is a private company that now manages TRMC and the TLHCD.

“I asked how many there had been since the start of the project. They (hospital officials) said 66,” he said. “Then I asked the project manager, and he said more than 660.”

The changes Aguilar reviewed included orders to upgrade construction trailers and to construct a new marquee sign for TRMC. Each project expended more than $100,000 in bond money earmarked for the still unfinished tower expansion.

Foundation Funds

The BOC had also been tasked with overseeing spending on the tower that did not come from bond sales, including a $3 million commitment from the Tulare Hospital Foundation and its community supporters. Hospital employees were asked to give as well.

“They (the Foundation) had a flier asking employees to donate one hour of their salary toward the construction of the tower,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar found other ways bond funds had been misspent or mishandled. The District paid medical supplier Siemens $5.5 million for equipment for the tower that was never delivered. The money, he said, may have been returned, but without accounting there’s no way to be sure. The District also stockpiled furnishings and supplies for the tower, so much that a two-week inventory was required when hospital management changed hands.

“My concern is money is being spent on things that have nothing to do with the project or its intent,” Aguilar said. “That’s still my concern.”

Aguilar’s attempt to reverse some of the damage has been rejected by management, he said.

“One of the things that was recommended at the last Bond Oversight Committee meeting in August of 2015, all of the stuff that was bought that was paid for from the bond money, why isn’t money put back from the general fund?” Aguilar said. “That’s really a simple solution.”

‘He Blatantly Lied’

Aguilar is focused on recalling Kumar because he says the wrongdoing is ongoing. He points to the recent $800,000 loan taken out by TLHCD and what Kumar and the Board told the public about it.

“I was at a Board meeting when he (Kumar) went ahead to put on the agenda about the line of credit that was $800,000. Usually, the resolution says what the intent is. What they had was just a line of credit,” Aguilar said. “People were asking questions. He (Kumar) indicated it was just a line of credit. He blatantly lied to us. They knew that money had already been dedicated.”

Once the loan was authorized by the bank, the funds were immediately used to pay off an outstanding debt. The payoff had apparently been in the works for weeks, internal TLHCD documents reveal. They are available at the Valley Voice website, ourvalleyvoice.com.

Kumar is also accused of receiving $650 an hour for being on call, a figure Aguilar says is much higher than fees received by other physicians for the same work. He said Kumar has charged the District for time when he was not physically present in Tulare County.

“How can he be on standby at $650 an hour when he’s not even there?” Aguilar asked. “I hear the other doctors only get $150 an hour.”

Nothing Personal

Despite his distaste for the situation at hand, Aguilar says he has no grudge.

“There’s nothing personal,” he said. “All we want is accountability and transparency. We’ve got to have the truth about what’s really going on. If there are changes to be made, let’s make them for the benefit of the community. People are lining their pockets.”

Aguilar cited the outcome of voting on Measure I, a request by the District for an additional $55 million in bonds to complete work on the stalled tower project that was voted down harshly, as an indicator of how the recall will proceed. He also pointed to the outcome of Bell and Gadke’s reelection campaigns and their failure as evidence Kumar won’t be around much longer.

“I’m so glad the people in those districts turned out and voted the way they did,” Aguilar said.

In Depth: Tulare Regional Medical Center

14 thoughts on “Tulare Hospital Board Member Facing Recall Effort

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  1. Nothing gets more personal than this!!! It’s vengeance at its best. I feel sorry for you people who have nothing better to do than attack a highly qualified medical MD.

  2. Having a doctor on the board is a major conflict of interest.

    We should move a ballot initiative to change the constitution of the TLHCD that disallows any doctor or nurse to serve on the hospital board.

  3. Icarefortulare where in the article did it talk about his qualifications as a MD? That’s clearly not the issue. Rather his performance as a board member has left us where we are today. A one star privately ran hospital.

  4. obtw, A one star privately ran hospital that pays kumar $16k each month just to be on call and pays over $3 million for a management company that runs the one star hospital

  5. This is not about him the physician, it’s all about his 20 year reign on the hospital board. All the bad decisions on how taxpayer money was and should be spent. All the lies told, lack of Accountability and transparency. His greediness,lack of patients safety by the hospital, by allowing HCCA to mismanage the hospital. The exterior/landscape is horrible and we pay them 3 million a year. The same management team also runs the Southern Inyo Hospital and splits their time there. So how can they be giving us 100%. If they are such a great company and know how to run their businesses they should be able to have 2 separate management teams, so no conflicts. They are also send full time employees contracted thru HCCA at TRMC to Southern Inyo and th ER y won’t disclose payroll records of these individuals so who knows which facility is paying that employee’s pay check

  6. It’s too bad that Dr. Kumar is willing to put himself and his family through a recall. Measure I was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin, Bell was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin and pretty much the same is true for Gadke. It is obvious the voting public is unhappy. Dr. Kumar must recognize this unhappiness and he should resign. He is recognized by many as a good doctor. His greed and hunger for power has seriously compromised he ability to make good decisions for our hospital.

  7. Dr Kumar is power hungry.
    When you speak out at the board meeting, he’s staring you down with a scowl on his face.
    When a board member is going to lie right to your face, that’s enough.
    What is also strange is that meeting was a special meeting and none of the usual crowd except for Citizens for Hospital Accountability were there……so who is actually watching the hen house?

  8. This is not about his medical practice, my mother goes to him. However it is about his greed and intolerance of anything he feels is different. HCCA and Kumar feel they are superior to everyone here. And he will take good care of you if your rich. Get him to come to your house in the middle if the night if you live on a poor street.

  9. Phillip: having a UPS drive on the board is better why? What does he know about business or medicine.

    Concerned: don’t kid yourself all these doctor in Tulare are Power HUNGRY.

    MORE NEEDS TO COME OUT ABOUT KUMAR: this statement by itself is vicious and hateful. I’ll have to agree with ICAREFORtulare

  10. Now, I’m being called on to be “tolerant” , “to move forward”, to “get over this”, to “accept this”. Well, I will not.

    I will do my part to limit the damage that Kevin NorthCraft and Mike Jamaica can do to our community Hospital.
    I will Listen , I will watch there every move and point out every single mistake and misdeed in a loud and proud voice. DO NOT CALL for my tolerance, they will receive none, I’ve tolerated all I can, now is their turn to tolerate ridicule. Be aware, make no mistake about it, every single thing that goes wrong with our hospital from the day they take their Oath , it will be Kevin NorthCraft and Mike Jamaica’s fault just as much as they thought it was Sherrie Bells Laura Gadke and Dr Kumars . I find it UNREASONABLES!!!

    My community deserves better then this. We now have to tolerate yet again another board that will not work together a board that is unruly and already making demands straight from their Puppet Masters.

  11. Bottom line Kumar is a narcissist liar and as greedy as anyone I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing. The way he speaks to indigent patience he gets overpaid to see, speaks volumes about his character. He’s been smiling in the faces of his victims for years and ignoring the needs of our hospital for years to forward his gross negligence as a representative of our hospital board. Your destruction in our community needs to end. It’s time to go. A decent man would do that.

  12. I want to thank Alberto Aguilar publicly for his awesome dedication on behalf of the residents of this district in researching and exposing the financial mismanagement of the current and immediately preceding administrations. Without his dogged persistence, we would still be in utter darkness.

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