More than 400 employees of the Tulare Local Health Care District did not receive their scheduled paychecks today, and those who have not walked out are scrounging for supplies to continue treating patients in their charge.
Only 95 checks, all written to the District’s lowest-paid employees, were delivered on Thursday, September 28. The rest will be paid as money becomes available.
Reliable sources say patients are being transferred from Tulare Regional Medical Center to other care facilities, and the emergency department has been described as a “ghost town.” Only 18 patients remain at the Center, 14 post-operative patients and four in the ICU.
Hospital Staying Open
Dr. Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi, CEO of the embattled company managing Tulare Regional Medical Center and the District’s other facilities — Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) — said the severity of the situation is “mounting by the hour” as he scrambles to find funds to continue operations. The hospital, he said, is not closing its doors.
“We have contingency plans for everything,” Benzeevi said.
He also denied patients were being moved to other care facilities.
“We’re not currently shipping patients out the door,” he said.
Benzeevi said the hospital will continue to operate, while others say a bare-bones staff is all that remains. Patient services continue, he said, and will as long as conditions allow.
“We’ll only (stop providing care) if a certain department is understaffed or doesn’t have the supplies,” he said. “Patient safety is concern one through 10.”
Benzeevi Delivers Ultimatum
At a meeting Wednesday, September 27, less than 24 hours before his employees went unpaid, Benzeevi vowed HCCA would no longer provide operating capital for the District. That followed a decision by the District’s Board of Directors to prevent HCCA from seeking additional loans.
“The rescission of our ability to borrow money will mean immediate consideration of plans to close the hospital,” he told the District’s board. “The choice is yours.”
The unpaid employees work for HCCA, and are not employed directly by the District.
Evolutions Used as Loan Collateral
The unrest at Tulare Regional comes at the same time as the discovery Benzeevi and HCCA used the District’s fitness center, Evolutions, to secure a loan on September 5. Also listed as collateral pledged to cover the new debt are the furnishings of Tulare Regional, as well as an undeveloped property adjacent to Evolutions.
The amount the collateral was used to secure is unknown.
The property and equipment were used to secure an agreement with Leasing Innovations, Inc., a Solana Beach-based company specializing in equipment leasing and rentals, as well as financing, according to the Better Business Bureau and Bloomberg.com.
Benzeevi said he has two other loans in the works, one to provide operating cash and another to provide financing to complete the stalled expansion project at Tulare Regional. Though he has not approached the Board of Directors about the two new loans, Benzeevi would be willing to work with the board in securing the loans, calling it “exactly what we need.”
‘Internal Disaster Preparedness’
Meanwhile, District employees report the hospital is operating on a minimal staff and enacted “internal disaster preparedness” protocols. The California Department of Public Health has been notified of the situation at Tulare Regional.
The state could shutter Tulare Regional if inspectors determine the facility can no longer provide adequate care. It could also suspend operations there until a new management group is found to take HCCA’s place.
New Management Company May Step In
Sources close to the District’s board say a new management company is ready to take over operations at Tulare Regional within 24 hours, if HCCA and the District part ways.
“They said, ‘The next day,’” the individual said.
Kevin Northcraft, president of the District’s board, did not respond to an interview request.
With unpaid employees walking off the job, HCCA called an emergency employee meeting in Tulare Regional’s cafeteria on the evening it failed to deliver paychecks to those same employees. A second meeting was scheduled for the morning of Friday, September 29.
This story will be updated. Publisher Joseph Oldenbourg contributed to this report.