This story has been updated to reflect that Dr. Parmod Kumar was not named in the suit filed Monday, though he was involved in the actions the suit is contesting.
The Tulare Local Healthcare District is in discussions to settle two nonpayment lawsuits, and has just been named in a third — along with Tulare Regional Medical Center’s administrator, Dr. Benny Benzeevi.
Misuse of Funds
The new suit, filed Monday, names Dr. Benny Benzeevi, Dr. Rebecca Zulim, Los Angeles attorney Bruce Greene, and the district as defendants. They are being sued by David Phelps, represented by Visalia attorney Michael Lampe.
The suit is the second that Lampe has pursued against the district relating to a case filed by Kumar, Zulim, and Benzeevi against Dr. Abraham Betre, a former member of the Medical Executive Committee — a case that has had financing from the district.
Because the district isn’t a party to the action, the suit claims the district is paying solely to further the trio’s interests. Estimates include $98,213.84 paid for legal services as of September 2016 — when Lampe’s first suit was filed — and $78,306.78 in an appellate bond, after Betre’s actions were found to be protected activity in the Tulare County Superior Court.
The suit seeks for Bruce Greene to be forced to pay back “any amount declared forefited by the court to the District,” and for Benzeevi to “reimburse the District for all expenses charged to the District on his behalf in the Kumar lawsuit including, but not limited to, the $78,306.78 Appellate Bond…”
The suit also claims that the move to fund the suit constitutes an “illegal gift of public funds” to Greene and Benzeevi.
Greene serves as attorney for Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) Benzeevi’s company that runs day-to-day operations at TRMC. To the hospital’s administrators, he is also still the district’s attorney.
While board members Kevin Northcraft, Mike Jamaica and Senovia Gutierrez voted to replace him and the BakerHostetler firm with a Fresno-based firm, Benzeevi has made it clear that the hospital’s administration doesn’t consider the vote binding because they don’t believe that Gutierrez is officially a board member yet.
In prior statements, the hospital’s administration has defended using its funds to pursue the Betre case, stating that it has an “obligation to preserve the integrity of the hospital’s peer review process.”
The trio’s suit claims that Betre violated confidentiality when speaking with the Voice for an article in the Voice’s March 16, 2016 issue.
“The District had legitimate reasons for funding the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees in the Betre case, and it should be patently obvious that there was no misuse or waste of “public funds.” The District’s position has been set forth in court pleadings, and will be reiterated in the trial of the matter,” a statement from the hospital in February 2017 read.
“That position, in brief, is that the District has an obligation to preserve the integrity of the hospital’s peer review process in order to protect patient safety and that by disclosing what he purported to be confidential peer review information to the press, Dr. Betre not only undermined the integrity of the peer review system, he also undermined the ability of the District to attract new physicians, who obviously rely on the confidentiality of the peer review process.”
Lampe’s prior suit, still in court, claimed that the district’s use of funds was a waste of taxpayer money.
Benzeevi stated that he was unable to comment as he had not yet seen the suit.
Not Providing Enough Funds
At the other end of the spectrum, two vendors have filed suits stating that hospital officials have failed to make payments. Hospital
Specialty Laboratories, Inc., a lab testing company that has had a relationship with the district since 2007, is seeking repayment of $93,206.26 in unpaid invoices. The company is suing both HCCA and the hospital.
The company filed suit in March, but officials with the hospital never filed responses, causing the company to file for an entry of default.
That’s because the suit wasn’t serviced properly, Benzeevi stated.
“The Specialty Lab case was improperly served and the resulting request to enter default was also improper,” Benzeevi said. “Settlement discussions have taken place.”
Process servers for Specialty Laboratories served copies of the suit to a Davinci Virtual Office address on Wilshire Blvd — but not to HCCA’s registered agent of service.
Additionally, Graham Prewett, a Fresno-based roofing contractor, sued the Tulare Local Healthcare District for $45,453.60, which the company claims was owed to it since March 16, 2016. The suit is dated May 3, 2017.
The company is seeking the total amount, plus 12% interest per year from the March date onward. Officials with the company declined to comment.
Benzeevi stated that the suits are in settlement talks, and singled out the protest at the hospital board’s July 26 meeting as a roadblock in the process.
“We reached a settlement in the Graham Pruett [sic] case, subject to Board approval. The settlement agreement was to be considered at the last board meeting,” Benzeevi said. “Northcraft and Jamaica refused to attend the meeting and as a result there was no quorum and the meeting had to be adjourned. We may well have now lost the opportunity to settle the case.”
The three filings are available for viewing below.