Heath Care Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) is starting to crack.
The once lockstep silence from employees at the company overseeing day-to-day operations at Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC) is breaking as it becomes apparent HCCA’s days in charge are numbered.
Rumors are flying, the District Attorney seems to be taking an interest, and if that weren’t enough, an attorney for HCCA promised in court this week a third newly elected new board member for Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) will be seated before the month’s end.
But it’s already too late for HCCA to avoid the interest of the DA’s office.
DA Investigation Ongoing
Dr. Frank Macaluso, a one-time member of the Medical Executive Committee (MEC) at Tulare Regional who resigned his position, says he and the DA will be talking about issues relating to operations at TRMC at a meeting scheduled for this week at the DA’s request. While he doesn’t know what investigators wish to ask him, he believes it is not related to the disputed replacement of the former MEC, and perhaps not to any issues already being discussed publicly.
“I have a meeting with the DA’s office on Wednesday. They want to talk to me about Tulare, about the whole situation with HCCA,” Macaluso said. “I don’t know what they want to talk to me about. I think they’re investigating HCCA that doesn’t have anything to do with the other stuff.”
However, testimony Macaluso gave during litigation against HCCA and TLHCD on behalf of the former MEC indicates the doctors staffing the replacement MEC knew there would be repercussions to their actions.
“There is going to be this lawyer and this lawyer, and you know they are going to have all sorts of lawyers in here,” he said during his testimony. “You’ve got, you know, basically I brought up these—you are going to have so many lawyers in this place, you guys won’t know what is going to happen.”
He also told of his fear money earmarked for completion of TRMC’s expansion would be consumed by attorney’s fees, and perhaps the DA’s office wishes to discuss that. Or, it could be the ongoing battle to seat newly elected replacement TLHCD board member Senovia Gutierrez.
“The will of the public is still being denied as far as the board members still being in there,” Macaluso said, adding that he was reluctant to speculate further until after his meeting with the DA.
HCCA Employees Jumping Ship
HCCA’s former VP of marketing Kathleen Johnson has already left the company, and it seems others may soon follow. Another high-placed employee, speaking anonymously, said they will leave HCCA within the month, and that individual is already seeking a new job.
“I’d be willing to talk to the DA, if they should call,” the current HCCA employee said.
The employee was unwilling to talk further, fearing reprisal, but is willing to go on the record after resigning. According to the source, HCCA also did all it could to bind its employees hands and shut their mouths.
“I signed at least 25 NDAs (non-disclosure agreements),” the source said.
Samantha Phillips-Bland, HCCA’s VP for ambulatory care services, reached out to newly elected board member Kevin Northcraft via her Facebook account, asking for a meeting with TLHCD board members Northcraft and Michael Jamaica, both of whom ran with the intent of ending HCCA’s association with TLHCD.
Phillips-Bland said she is willing to talk further with members of the TLHCD Board and the DA’s office, though the latter has not contacted her.
“Obviously, as everybody does, we have some concerns,” she said of HCCA’s current executive employees. “Should the DA call me in, certainly they have every right to request an interview.”
Phillips-Bland said she remains willing to answer questions from the TLHCD Board and the DA. She has not decided whether she will stay at HCCA.
“I think those are personal decisions that will be made at the right time,” she said.
Meanwhile, an unusual inventory has rumors flying at TRMC.
Within the last month, “a lot of suits” have been on campus at the Tulare Hospital, and an outside group was brought in to perform an inventory of the hospital’s assets, according to staff members. Those curious about the identity of the inventory team were unable to find out who had hired them and why the inventory was being performed.
While third parties performing inventory counts is not in itself out of the ordinary, the context has raised many eyebrows. Recently, several employees have reported being told of a possible $100 million outside investment in HCCA and TRMC. They described the attitude of HCCA executives as “gleeful.” They passed the information to the press, they said, because any potential investor “should know what they’re getting into.”
City Council Considers Audit Request
The Tulare City Council, which last month found itself embroiled in the spill-over from controversy at TLHCD when it addressed limiting the hospital board’s use of the Council Chambers at the Tulare City Library, may ask for a state-level audit of the Hospital District.
During the absence of Mayor Carlton Jones and Councilman David Macedo at the September 5 Council meeting, Councilman Jose Sigala asked the Council to consider contacting the chairman of the State Audit Committee and requesting an audit of both bond spending at TLHCD and of its current operations.
The issue was placed on the agenda for the September 19 meeting.
Both Jones and Vice Mayor Marissa Castellanoz received campaign contributions from HCCA and its CEO Dr. Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi.
That, however, may soon not be necessary. During a court appearance last week, an attorney for HCCA promised the company would no longer challenge the legality of the election of Segovia Gutierrez to the TLHCD Board of Directors. Gutierrez was elected in a recent recall election that removed former TLHCD director Dr. Parmod Kumar.
Gutierrez, the attorney told the presiding judge, would be seated at the Hospital District’s next board meeting on September 27. It remains to be seen if HCCA will honor its word.