Emergency Board Meeting Called After Fiscal Spiral at Tulare Regional Medical Center

Employees of Healthcare Conglomerate Associates sought answers at an all-hands employee meeting Friday morning. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

This story has been updated to correct a quote — an anonymous employee said the revenue had declined over the last three years, not months.

Employees of Tulare Regional Medical Center met at 8:30am with the hospital’s CEO, Dr. Benny Benzeevi, and CFO, Alan Germany, to discuss issues surrounding the beleaguered hospital.

Shortly after that meeting ended, members of the Tulare Local Healthcare District’s Board of Directors announced they will meet tonight to discuss the situation at hand after many of the hospital’s workers — employed by Benzeevi’s management company, Healthcare Conglomerate Associates — weren’t paid Thursday, their regularly scheduled payday.

Multiple employees have since reported that they have since been paid today.

Torrez Resigns

Richard Torrez has resigned from the Tulare Local Healthcare District’s Board of Directors, Board Chair Kevin Northcraft confirmed.

“We were very appreciative of his support when he clarified and ratified the actions of the last three meetings of the new board, and we are happy he did come to the meeting for those things,” Northcraft told the Voice.

In a statement, Northcraft said that Torrez’ resignation “means that the entire Board that brought and blindly supported HCCA, which almost cost us our hospital, is now gone.”

He stated that Torrez had resigned during the special session of the September 23 board meeting, and that the resignation was effective as of 12:00am Thursday, September 28.

Northcraft also stated that recruitment to replace Torrez would begin soon.

Bankruptcy, Closure, Loans On The Agenda

Members of the hospital’s board called an emergency meeting to be held tonight at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 220 W. Tulare Ave, Tulare. Emergency meetings are able to be called under the Brown Act with less than 24 hours’ notice under specific circumstances, such as “work stoppage, crippling activity, or other activity that severely impairs public health, safety, or both.”

After the resignation of Richard Torrez, only Kevin Northcraft, Senovia Gutierrez, and Mike Jamaica remain on the board.

The meeting, starting at 6:30PM, will include consideration of a complete closure of the hospital, pursuing loans for operational costs, or Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

Page 1 of TRMC 9 29 Emergency Meeting Agenda

Contributed to DocumentCloud by Tony Maldonado (Valley Voice Newspaper) • View document or read text

HCCA’s other managed hospital, the Southern Inyo Hospital, is currently in Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings.

Northcraft stated the board would listen to the advice of their attorneys at McCormick Barstow to make the best-informed decision possible.

“I think these are necessary steps — we need to come together to seek a change in the management of our public hospital. There’s a lot of contention going on,” Northcraft said. “Despite the rough spots, hopefully in the long run this will be a positive step for our community, patients and employees.”

“The Board’s Fault”

A Voice reporter attempted to attend the morning meeting, but was escorted off the premises by hospital security and told it was a private, employee-only meeting; however, multiple employees have reached out to the Voice, describing the meeting and what they feel has caused the hospital’s downward spiral.

All have reached out under the condition of anonymity out of concerns for potential retaliation from the hospital management company.

Board members’ telephone numbers were posted at an all-hands meeting Thursday. Courtesy/Submitted

One characterized the meeting as largely shifting blame to the healthcare district’s Board of Directors. At one point, the board members’ personal phone numbers were written on a chalkboard in the conference room the meeting was held at.

The employee claims that Benzeevi stated that the health care management company had been reaching out to the board for “months and months” without response.

If taken at face value, that could include the period when Dr. Parmod Kumar, Linda Wilbourn, and Richard Torrez were still on the board — constituting a majority of board members which signed and supported HCCA’s management of the Tulare hospital.

“I attended the board meeting and saw the financial report. The revenue declined 50% over the last three years,” the employee told the Voice. “This didn’t happen in 3 months. Don’t insult our intelligence.”

Those opposing HCCA’s management have had a majority of the board since July, when Kumar was recalled and Senovia Gutierrez voted in.

“Set Up To Fail”

Another employee claims that the hospital may have been set up for failure by overcharging through a system of false productivity — having employees around even when they’re not needed, claiming that shift happened around a year ago.

The employee claims when the company first took over operations, management would respond to patient levels with staffing reductions — sending employees home when they’re not needed, and ensuring that employees “charged out” equipment.

Over the past year, the employee says, that’s changed.

“We don’t even charge out equipment and we were never sent home when we were low or anything,” the employee stated.

“When we had counts of 20, 23, we were all there. There were times that people had only 3 or 4 patients — it was obvious. And then, not charging out equipment — we’d get in trouble if we weren’t charging out equipment before, and now it doesn’t matter?”

The employee claims that HCCA may have been setting up the hospital to fail — or, at least, become indebted to the hospital management company.

Another employee contacted by the Voice agrees.

“Normally, on any given day we would have three to four nurses on at one time,” the employee stated. “And then because the bell system is down in our unit, where patients can’t call, we have a rounder.”

“So we have approximately five to six people on at one time. And there would be times where we will have people just sitting around doing a whole lot of nothing,” the employee said, “and then, as far as equipment’s concerned, there would be times where we would have equipment on patients that didn’t need to be there.”

“They would move a patient up to ICU just to keep it open,” the employee described. “They were shifting people in order to keep departments open so that they could keep the staff on.”

Other days, the employee claims, would see some focus on keeping staffing at sustainable levels.

“Then there would be days where they would say — no, we need to send people home,” they said. “You have this discrepancy every day of — am I coming in or not, am I working, those kind of things. And then you would have — I’m working, but there’s nobody here. This doesn’t make any sense.”

Some employees have reached out to the Voice and stated they are attempting to pursue “other options,” though those have not been specified.

The Voice has reached out to Dr. Benny Benzeevi, CEO of HCCA, but has not yet received a response. When one is provided, this article will be updated.

In Depth: Tulare Regional Medical Center

33 thoughts on “Emergency Board Meeting Called After Fiscal Spiral at Tulare Regional Medical Center

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  1. I knew overataffing had to be occurring. The numbers didn’t support any change in the staffing level of employees. This makes perfect sense. Keep the employees hours up even if they had nothing to do, this just further adds to the 30% of payroll that Benzeevi is owed per the contract for leasing the employees.

    Find it interesting they miraculously had the money to make the payroll when just last night said no money was there. Employees are being lied to. It is up to this board to fix this mess.

    • I’m not brainwashed. I’m trying to stay positive for our hospital. I’ve never waivered on where I stand. I am a loyal employee for our Tulare hospital, which we need for our community. I stay because I care for my patients. I didn’t become a nurse for the paycheck. I showed up on Friday to serve my patients, even though I didn’t know when I’d get paid. I’ve never compromised the care of ANY patient I’ve cared for. If anyone wants to challenge that , or post ridiculous accusations hiding behind social media , that’s cowardly. I will talk to anyone FACE TO FACE any day of the week. You know where I work.

      • I was told that while the attorney was presenting all the documentation about the communication with Dr. B and his attorneys that you said he should just sit down and why did that matter. It matters because your CEO has been lying to you and for a long time. He never gave the board loan options and he won’t give requested financial data. He wouldn’t even give them the CDHP report, they had to request directly. They weren’t even told HCCA wasn’t going to make payroll the very next day after a board meeting.

        I won’t call you brainwashed but I will say you are not looking at this with an open mind. You have chosen to believe falsehoods and not only that you have been extremely vocal in a negative way about the Citizens group that has tried to bring these issues to light. Your behavior and comments are well documented in video as recent as just a few days ago in the employee meetings. I wouldn’t exactly describe it as positive. Your behavior is poisonous to other employees that might like to look at this with an open mind.

        • Deanne,
          If you are being fully honest and transparent, then the truth is that their has been negative comments BOTH sides. I have never made excuses for things I’ve said or done. I even have apologized publicly for things I’ve said. Feeding into the derogatory comments and blatant negative statements about the staff, our care and friends of this community and those who serve it, isn’t something I tolerate. I should ignore the ignorant comments from some, but It’s not in my personality to sit back and hear such harsh things that has been said time and time again on your Citizens site and do nothing.

          I have always maintained my support for the positive direction of the hospital. You can’t deny that since 2012, some Drs in this town have been sending their patients elsewhere. A hospital needs patients to survive. Period. We swore an oath to serve the patients that need us, and I have no intention of going against that oath. It’s hypocrital when you say it doesn’t happen from Citizens for Hospital Accountability . The little “jabs” that came from our current Board Chair, Kevin Northcraft, at the Board meeting on Friday that got cheers from his supporters. The condescending behavior continues , yet you say you support the staff. Northcraft and Citizens never even gave HCCA a chance. The whole trajectory of their mission was to get HCCA out from day one. Don’t deny it.

          I continue to pray for the success for our hospital, and that all staff get to maintain their jobs to serve Tulare.

          • And for the record, I was recording the ENTIRE BOARD MEETING , for staff that wasn’t able to attend, to watch, and I NEVER said that “he should sit down, that doesn’t matter” . What I did say, was it was VERY long and many people may not understand all the information given. It was overload, for some community members. The Bankruptcy attorney was more brief.

            This is very important to the Tulare community to save our hospital!

  2. AFTER THE RESIGNATION OF RICHARD TORREZ……… that’s the first I have heard of his actually resigning. This was mentioned much like an after thought. Now Tulare needs for Benzeevi to resign as well just after the contract with HCCA has been nulled and voided.

    • Hey Barbara, sorry. You’re right, that should be covered better, but I mentioned it like that because we had published a brief story on that earlier in the day. I’ve updated the story to better reflect.

      • Thanks Tony! This story has so many moving parts it is almost next to impossible to stay on top but Valley Voice is the first newspaper I go to for facts. Looks like you better get ready for another runaway train with the Tulare Police Chief being placed on a mysterious Admin. Leave.

  3. Yep, sounds about right. Duane has xray techs, ultrasound techs just sitting around doing 3 or 4 patients on a shift. He even hired a MRI tech recently at $50-plus per hour to do what, 1 or 2 MRIs per day. Kick back operation, thats why nobody in a hurry to quit !! Duane himself has a side business directly competes with the hospital and hires TRMC staff to help out. Corruption trickles down to all levels, ya.

    • Whoever this ex-ray tech is–you couldn’t be further from the truth. At the board meeting the data showed radiology mostly steady, while other departments declining. Duane is an honest man and works endless hours for the department. His integrity should NOT be questioned!

      • Duane is an honest man with deep loyalty to the community and the hospital not hcca, the idea that he’s working against the hospital is completely untrue. The idea that he’s working against the hospital is completely untrue.

  4. Sad. not necessarily loyal to Bennie but they get something in return. Its every man for him self now. Please just get rid of them all and start fresh our hospital could and will come back to life but the managers and doctors in their now must be cleaned out.

  5. HCCA employees:

    now is the time to speak out. please attend tonight and tell the Board all of the problems. I understand that you fear losing you employment and that is certainly a serious concern. however, HCCA time here in about to run out and with your comments, you would help bring future stability to your household and to the community.

  6. God Bless this new Hospital Board and the very big task at hand to begin a rebuilding process while drop kicking dip-shit Benny the thief to the curb. No more bullying from the HCCA money stealing machine. Time to take a hike!!!

  7. yep xray dept sure has held steady all the while the hospital patient load crumps. Well that reason is obvious and the xray techs know it. Benney, Ostrom and gang get an xray or a cat scan or an ultrasound scan on darn near everybody foolish enough to walk in. Its called up-sell, overuse, overutilizing etc. Same as when they move a patient into the icu who doesnt need to be there or keeping a patient longer than need be. These shenanigans are going on constantly at TRMC HCCA. Those who know about it (just about everybody) just have their blindfolds on and pretend not to notice. Especially their manager. Pretend innocence and self righteousness and loyalty but to look the other way and not stand up for whats right due to lack of guts, thats just wrong and even more – its fraud and harmful to the patient. Its disgusting.

    • This has been going on for years by the primary admitter to the hospital. This inappropriate use costs the District money because of failures of case management to be able to freely communicate discharge needs. Clean house, new board, and please select an alignment partner not beholden to special interests.

    • How did anyone lose a job with HCCA because the District has no money? Bankruptcy offers a level of protection to restructure the enormous debt ran up by HCCA. I am assuming you remain one of the brain washed that believe HCCA presented loan options to the board.

      Do you realize just the night before at the regular scheduled meeting there was no mention to the board that all employees were not being paid. But yet you probably really believe Benzeevi told the board members only 95 people were being paid. That news came from the inside after the directors meeting on Thursday.

      Closure of the hospital came from Benny and he is putting fear and distrust onto his employees. It is a crying shame it came to this but no more throwing good money after bad.

  8. Last night was an extremely productive meeting. At last the employees opened up as to what lies and threats are being spread by HCCA. Broke my heart the amount of mental stress HCCA is putting onto it’s employees. Everyone of them needs to notify Fair Labor.
    The nonsense coming from HCCA’s overpriced LA lawyers are feeding the Board’s lawyers is a joke. Creative, but a joke.
    So all said and done this board made the absolute best decision for our community and TRMC’s employees. Chapter 9, reorganization is the only way to get rid of HCCA legally. Just the way the hospital in Inyo did. My only hope that with 2 Chapter 9 bankruptcies being filed because of mismanagement by HCCA that the Feds will take notice and dig deep into their corruption and go after them for a major white collar crime and put their vehinds in jail for a very very long time! Sit tight employees…help is on the way!

    • Southern Inyo filed bankruptcy because of (perceived or actual) mismanagement before HCCA came on — HCCA’s bankrolling legal expenses to keep the Inyo Chapter 9 case rolling.

      • Probably Benzeevi has been using TRMC to bankroll Southern Inyo’s Chapter 9 case. That is more than likely what happened to our hospital funds. He robs from Peter to pay Paul…..Benzeevi, the master of a shell game.

  9. Generally speaking, when a company is hired for management, services provided include direction of day to day operations and strategic planning as well as accounting which means that all salaries for these services including executives, secretaries, accountants, bookkeepers are paid for with contract dollars. Even equipment and office supplies solely related to those functions should be included. The company should also pay rent for infrastructure utilized, management related legal fees, and business liability insurance. If a physician and hospital enter into an agreement in which the doctor uses a hospital owned office, they must pay fair market value or both parties could face federal prosecution. Hospitals will hire outside independent consulting firms to verify the numbers to avoid infringement of kickback laws. Some of the cost items could be negotiated but, given that this was a no risk contract, there needs to be checks and balances to ensure cost effective performance. By including all of these expenses in the contract, the district would at least know that this part of the overhead would be carefully monitored. Certainly, some incentives for profit would be reasonable though there needs to be diligent board and medical staff oversight to ensure that critical medical care expenditures are not being short cut for profit incentives. There would be obvious conflicts of interest if this were not the case. Some of the articles have mentioned high salaries for the executives which will only be relevant if these were paid outside of the management contract. If the contract signed did not mandate these expenses as included within the contract then the board members who approved it are either ignorant or corrupt. It is always difficult when a for profit entity takes over a non-profit medical center and given the animosity between the HCCA principals and the rest of the medical staff, it was a really a poor decision for the board to approve this company and doomed to failure.

  10. Chapter 9 bankruptcy does not make the HCCA employees TRMC employees. Benny can send everyone home tomorrow and there isn’t anything the board can do about that. I do wish the new board the best but it is going to be a long, hard and painfull road ahead to fix all this. So much damage has already been done to the hospital, its finances, its reputation and its relationships with suppliers, doctors and community.

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