Members of the Tulare Local Healthcare District’s Board of Directors were caught completely unaware by news of HCCA’s inability to pay its employees Thursday.
Kevin Northcraft, chair of the District’s Board, said Benzeevi and other high-level employees gave no indication they would be unable to cover the cost of their staff’s salaries during the most recent board meeting. HCCA rarely shares information with the Board, he said.
“We have very little communication (with HCCA),” Northcraft said. “We had an hour-long discussion last night (September 27). They didn’t indicate they couldn’t pay their employees the next day.”
The board, he said, can do nothing about conditions at Tulare Regional as long as the management contract with HCCA remains in place.
“We’re working hard to change it,” Northcraft said. “As long as we have the contract, we have no control over (direct daily management of District facilities).”
Northcraft confirmed the board is ready to act to keep the hospital and its other facilities operating if HCCA proves unable to meet its financial obligations or the contract with HCCA is otherwise severed. He could not discuss specifics; however, details will soon follow.
“We’re obviously working on our options,” he said. “Things are in the works, but we can’t really talk about it. We have a lot of people working as we speak, and it’s almost 10 o’clock in the evening. Some of that will become public soon.”
Employee Forum Video Leaked
Video of the HCCA employee forum on the evening of September 28 has leaked to social media, including the Valley Voice’s Facebook page. During the meeting, HCCA CFO Alan Germany told unpaid employees they would receive checks as HCCA received payments and should all be paid by Tuesday. He also said that was not a guarantee.
““We’re not sure exactly,” Germany said. “It depends on the receipts coming in.”
He also confirmed a significant number of employees either did not come to work or left work after HCCA failed to paid them. HCCA had no choice but to go into emergency mode, Germany said.
“In terms of the staffing, everyone knows there’ve been different people who’ve either called off today or when they didn’t get paid they departed,” he told the assembled employees. “This is what’s called an ‘internal disaster.’ That’s really kind of a proactive approach on our part. We didn’t have a lot of choice here.”
Surgeries Canceled, Patients Discharged
In the video, Angie Graziano, HCCA’s chief of nursing, told staff the company has a clinical staff contingency plan for each department. It amounts to “what we would run at the very least for the number of patients we have,” she said. She said the hospital is “converting patients out” of ER for procedures and surgeries, canceling elective surgeries, and “trying to get through the weekend with the patients we have, and we’ve discharged as many as we can.”
HCCA, Graziano said, was contacted by the state Department of Public Heath (CDPH), which demanded proof of Tulare Regional’s plan to deal with the crisis. It appears from Graziano’s statements the agency wants all remaining patients at Tulare Regional discharged.
“They (CDPH) are aware of the situation. It is with their direction that they wanted the ER to go into conversion,” she said. “It was their discretion they wanted us to call an internal disaster in order for us to be able to transfer remaining patients out at this time.”
While this does not directly contradict Benzeevi’s statement about patient transfers, they will be upcoming during the state-mandated response.
‘He Lied to Us!’
As Germany took questions from staff, he affirmed the company’s contract forbids the District from rehiring former HCCA employees should the agreement be terminated.
“That’s the way it sits,” he said. “The District signed it. There were a lot of attorneys on it.”
A newly hired and apparently angry employee demanded to know why HCCA CEO Benzeevi was not in attendance. Her complaint stemmed from false assurances she would not face being unpaid at the time she was hired, the woman said.
“I was lied to!” she said. “Where’s Benzeevi? He should be the one here facing us.”
Germany promised Benzeevi would attend a second employee forum set for Friday morning, September 29.
The employee was not satisfied.
“We had opportunities to go other places, and then you bold-faced lie to us that we’re going to get our paychecks?” she said. “That’s the way I take it. Why would you risk everybody else’s paycheck to bring in 50 people just to keep your hospital open for another two weeks?”
Germany told her the loan was still awaiting board approval.
“I was told they were getting their money. It was approved,” she said. “In other words, they lied to us just to get us to come work for you guys.”
Board Denies Loan Discussion
Earlier in the meeting, Germany told his staff the company had plans in hand to take out loans to cover upcoming operating costs, which would prevent further missed paychecks.
“We have provided the board with a lot of information about some loans that we’ve found out about and that have been presented to us,” Germany said. “Really, it’s some significant amounts. We’ve given the board details in terms of those loans, and they’re going to be considering them.”
He said a special meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 2; yet, Board Chairman Northcraft said no such meeting is scheduled. HCCA, he said, has not provided them details of plans to refinance themselves.
“He (Germany) talked like we’ve got all these details of a loan and they’re waiting for us to approve it,” Northcraft said. “They say we’re not cooperating, but they’re not giving us any information. How can we cooperate?”
He finds himself frustrated by this most recent turn of events and shifting of blame.
“It’s sad they’re trying to blame the board,” Northcraft said. “I really feel for the employees. While the patients are the first concern, the employees work hard and they expect to be paid when they’re supposed to be.”