Hospital Board Appoints New Member, Evolutions Progresses

The Tulare Local Healthcare District’s Board of Directors on November 14. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

Tulare’s hospital board is finally whole after the appointment of a new member on November 14 — and Evolutions could open this weekend, if the stars align.

The Tulare Local Healthcare District’s Board of Directors chose Stephen Harrell to replace the seat vacated by Richard Torrez upon his resignation on September 28, 2017.

Harrell will serve out the remainder of Torrez’ term, which expires in November 2018.

Harrell and Phil Smith were both interviewed by the board at the meeting. While the board praised Smith’s financial acumen and skill set, they ultimately chose Harrell in a unanimous vote.

Evolutions Could Reopen Soon

A plan to reopen Evolutions continues to progress, Tulare attorney Dennis Mederos told the public. A company represented by Mederos would lease Evolutions’ gym facilities and operate them while the board focuses on rebuilding the hospital.

“We’re trying to let the district devote all of its efforts and all of its time into getting its hospital open,” he said. “If we get the favorable ruling we’re looking for that will deliver possession to the district, I anticipate being able to ramp up this lease very shortly.”

“[Evolutions is] not our top priority. The hospital is our top priority,” Board Chairman Kevin Northcraft said.

Staff from the Tulare Industrial Site Development Foundation, the Tulare Local Development Company, and the Tulare Hospital Foundation will participate in the management of the company.

“These entities are doing this for the benefit of the community,” Mederos said.

There would also be an oversight committee to monitor the operations of the resuscitated Evolutions, selected by the members of the hospital district’s board, Mederos said.

“This operation will be totally transparent, though representatives,” he said.

The hospital district will head to federal bankruptcy court on Thursday morning to seek a ruling that would allow it to take control of the hospital and its properties — including Evolutions — immediately. If a judge rules in the hospital’s favor, it could revive the gym in short order.

“We’ve actually had an ambitious goal, which is to open this weekend,” Mederos said. “If we can get the insurance taken care of, and if we can get a favorable ruling from the court, I truly believe we’ll get Evolutions open very quickly.”

Stephen Harrell

Stephen Harrell. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

Harrell currently serves on the Tulare County Ambulance Compliance committee, and works as a personal trainer. He’s a member of Citizens for Hospital Accountability, the group which has previously supported Northcraft, Mike Jamaica, and Senovia Gutierrez.

His addition to the board means the whole body is now comprised of those who are either members of, or have been supported by, the group.

He stated that he has over thirty years of experience in law enforcement, including in the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office and the Tulare Police Department.

“I’ve always been a hands-on type manager — I’m involved in everything that goes on,” Harrell said. “Anything that my people do, I do also.”

He told the Voice that he felt that his experience would carry over to any position he serves in, including the board.

While Harrell said he would be able to interact with everyone and anyone, he did say that knowing the other board members would help.

He also told the board he shared their mindset.

“My philosophy and what I would think needs to be done is exactly what this board is doing,” he said. “This board is finally standing up and taking their hospital back again — and bringing some respect back to the hospital that has been deteriorating for quite some time.”

He also stated that his first priority — after ensuring that Tulare Regional Medical Center would be reopened — would be to restore the public’s confidence in the hospital. He wasn’t sure whether he would run in November of 2018, though.

Locked Doors

The Tulare Local Healthcare District’s Board of Directors was forced to meet in the lobby of Evolutions Gym after being locked out from their usual meeting place. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

Hospital board meetings have traditionally been held inside the conference room of Evolutions Gym.

That room was locked shut at the Tuesday meeting. Instead, chairs and a volunteer-provided speaker system were set up by the time attendees milled into the lobby of Evolutions.

Evolutions and all of the hospital district’s other properties are still managed by Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) until November 27, or until a judge allows the hospital district to reject the company’s contract sooner.

It’s unclear whether the decision to lock the meeting room was made by HCCA, but Jamaica did say he had received some advance notice that the room would be locked.

The move came after a critical opinion piece ran in the Visalia Times-Delta, penned by HCCA CEO Benny Benzeevi, in which he called the board’s actions to declare bankruptcy reckless, and after he told the local daily that Board Chairman Kevin Northcraft was “whining and crying like a baby.”

Phil Smith

Phil Smith, foreground, addresses questions from the Tulare Local Healthcare District board. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

While Smith wasn’t ultimately chosen, the board specifically praised his financial background and asked for any help he could provide as they navigate the healthcare district’s bankruptcy.

Smith is a former member of the Tulare Board of Public Utilities, and previously ran against Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones for election to the Tulare City Council. He has over 30 years of experience in the finance industry.

“I believe what I bring to this particular body is 20 years of commercial lending, 30 years of banking. My job now is to analyze financial statements and to project the outcome of projects,” Smith said. “This body, regardless of who gets the seat, is going to be working on a projected basis for years to come — and the financial information needs to be solid, and it has to be explainable to the public.”

Northcraft noted that while he personally favored Harrell, he noted Smith’s financial background and abilities.

“I think it’s a tough decision — in a way we can’t make the wrong decision, but there are really good reasons to support Phil as well as Steve,” he said.


In Depth: Tulare Regional Medical Center

33 thoughts on “Hospital Board Appoints New Member, Evolutions Progresses

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  1. We need to make sure that our law enforcement officials commit to investigating Benzeevi and his operations. He can not be allowed to just walk away from this. Same goes for Germany.

  2. Once again, thank you CFHA for your efforts for the people of Tulare.

    Things are not perfect, a lot of damage has been done and a lot of work remains to be done … but what has been achieved is marvelous.

    This Thanksgiving, our collective thanks goes to the people who have worked to get our hospital back.

    • 400 people out of work. This is your definition of marvelous work? Wow!

      There was no need for this to happen except for the personal vendetta these people have for HCCA. No excuse for this disaster.

      • Hmmmm …. this was not a hospital in last few months. It was a killing machine.
        I am sure you have read the reports.

        400 people will come back to work. It is marvelous that the board sniffed Benny’s game and got papers in for voluntary suspension before Benny could cause it to lead to a state forced shut-down.
        Had they been a few hours late, these 400 people would have no hope of ever coming back to work.

        And yes, when Benny killed my grandma, it becomes personal. Is it different in your family?

      • You are kidding right? It is our hospital not Bennie the crooks. The employees of Bennies and all the money and income went into his bank accpunt. The board didn’t even know how much went into his account every dsy. And all you can do is feel sorry for Bennie. Sorry but you are nuts.

  3. Thank you Citizens for Hospital Accountability…..the true leaders of our community. There is one member of the group who standouts to me and and that person is Deanna Martin-Soares, one of Tulare’s leading community activists and “Hospital Board Historian” (in my opinion). Good job all…..let the good work continue!

      • Funny must be a Benny lover. In case you haven’t noticed HCCA doesn’t pay its employees just uses them. Working for him was a nightmare, with threats and degrading you. These past years working under him were horrible. Such a wonderful community to serve but restricted on what to do or say because you would get fired. Was so sad when I quit and it still bothers me today but couldn’t work for such a POS person anymore. I hope and pray he pays for all he’s done and TRMC gets put back together.

    • To Mimi, you are Benzeevi or one of his BLIND, DEAF, AND DUMB FOLLOWERS (BDDF). The hospital being closed right now has nothing to do with the NEW BOARD. But you know that already. The fault lies with BENZEEVI AND THE OLD BOARD. So take the blinders off, ear plugs out and start using your brain. What the NEW BOARD is doing is called. CLEANING HOUSE.

        • Hospital was running and people were working until the new Board pulled the rug out from under HCCA loans. Thems the facts, you guys own the closure. Embrace it… hug it… and go visit the employees who are standing in the unemployment line.

          • Yes the hospital was running, without proper supplies,a kitchen, linens, medical supplies, staff not getting paid on time, and pay checks bouncing, if that is what you consider running a hospital, than I guess it was. But that is not how a hospital is supposed to be PROPERLY ran. Or did you not know that?

          • HCCA stopped paying vendors a long long time ago causing many of them to stop doing business with the district and racking up mountains of debt. HCCA fired experienced staff in lieu of lower payroll budgets, and then ultimately was no longer able to even honor payroll. Out of the last 4 paychecks I received, 3 of them were late and one bounced. Meanwhile Benny is using private jets and buying porches. But yes, let’s ignorantly point fingers and the people who walked in while the shoe was dropping.

    • Mimi-
      If you so care, please take 4 minutes out of your life and watch the video on FB about rationale for voluntary suspension.
      That is IF you care.

  4. I’m not one to comment on here, but I just wanted to say that I know Steve Harrell. He’s a great guy. I worked under his leadership for a few years. He leads by example, and lucky for us isn’t easily influenced, intimidated, or bullied. He’s honest, and will do his best to serve the citizens of Tulare.

    • Why the accountant wasn’t chosen I have no idea. If the financial well being of the hospital was so important why not choose a numbers guy and not a “personal trainer”? Just another “pillar” of the community.

      Good to see he is proud to have put 400 people out of work. That must make him really qualified for this board. Well that and standing in front of the Board meetings trying to look intimidating while we laugh at him in the back of the room….

      • Reality Bites, can you read? Phil Smith is not an accountant, he is a banker. While he would have been a great choice I would prefer he run for City Council and replace the mayor. He can still provide the Hospital Board with information and analysis. Benzeevi was running the hospital into the ground and forced the bankruptcy and closure. The entire responsibility rests with Benny.

      • Interesting you’re blaming Steve Harrell for HCCA no longer employing 400 people… Will you give him the credit once the Hospital reopens creating 400 jobs? All I did was speak to his character because I know him. I don’t know Phil Smith although I’m sure he’s a great person as the article stated. At least both these men stepped up to try and help make a change, rather than sit in the back of the room giggling while HCCA refuses to give passwords/keys and plays games with 400 peoples livelihood. However, like I said, I doubt Steve will be intimidated by you and your Cackle of Hyenas in the back of the room where you clearly belong.

    • RB –
      It should not be very difficult for you to grasp, I hope, that no board member is allowed to get involved in the actual work itself. They will have to use independent agents. It was a certain doctor board member whose desire to work as manager of the hospital that has led us here. For sake of transparency, board members have to maintain arm’s length distance.

      It is their leadership skills, integrity, transparency, accountability and desire to serve the community that matters, not their personal occupational qualifications. If their qualifications were of relevance, one would expect a doctor would be the best person to be on the board. We have seen that reality is actually just the stark opposite.

      • KD
        Well said ! The role of a board member is leadership and Not experience running a hospital or the finances. Board members hire the CEO and hold the CEO accountable. The Board should insure transparency . Had the community were allowed to read the MSA before the old board blindly voted for it , things may have turned up differently , that’s if the old board would have listened. Personally I’m in favor of the board forming committees made up of a few board members and citizens. This would be an excellent way for the community to get involved with their Hospital and it is an excellent way for the board to utilize the expertise of skilled citizens. An Example would be a finance committee, made up of two board members and 4 to 6 expert citizens and the CFO . This committee would look at the total financial out look as well as loans , bonds or any other financial issues. They can make recommendations to the board . Ultimately the board would have the final say. For me the board position is not about knowing how to run a hospital it’s about knowing how to prevent the crooks from taking over and holding the CEO accountable for the total performance of the Hospital especially the quality of care and financial health . Broad members sould not be easy to fooled or CoolAid drinkers . We saw one board member flip sides , resign from the board and go to work for HCCA . Elect people who are dedicated to the community and the Hospital that serves them . You’re expamle of a doctor serving on the board is an excellent example of people thinking they need a expert on the board . Sometimes experts can have a personal agenda. Beware of people running for board or city councils looking to cash in from their positions .

  5. All of this could be finished if Benzeevi would be a man and step away gracefully. But I truly do not think that is possible. How very sad for the staff and the people of Tulare.

  6. If benzeevi is such a great guy and is all about the community and employees, then why won’t he hand over financials or passwords or keys so employees can get their jobs back quickly. Instead he is acting like the benzeevi that the community has always known he was. I’ll admit I used to drink the koolaid and boy was I blind! He has a way of talking you into believing his bs. But I realized that if what he said was true all along then vendors would have been paid and company’s wouldn’t be suing him for payment. He was hoping to get measure “I” passed so he could pay everyone off and play catch up with bills while finish the tower at the same time. Problem is he was lying about financials the whole time. He was preaching to everyone that there was all this money. And yes there was because he didn’t pay bills! So I’m the end to those who defend the lying benzeevi, your just as bad because you endorse someone who lied to a community about their hospital. You defend him when he is acting like a child who dosn’t want to share his toy! He is dragging this game out instead of just accepting defeat. I hope the judge realizes this tomorrow.

  7. I’m so happy Crooked benny is going to be gone soon!!

    Brand new leadership for the new hospital coming soon where the employees will have a fresh start!

    There will be no more bounced paychecks!

    There will be no more having to cash your check at crooked benny’s bank out of fear the check is bad!

    New doctors that know what they are doing will work their again!

    The utilities will be paid!

    Everyone won’t be searching for supplies due to lack of not having any because cooked benny did not pay the vendors.

    ER won’t be looking for clean sheets because they don’t have any.

    And maybe there will even be a hospital cafeteria again instead of food trucks outside because crooked benny could not pay for it!

    Compared to what is leaving, the list of wonderful new things to come is endless!!

    I hope tomorrows court ruling kicks his crooked butt out sooner than the 27th, however, if not, just knowing he will be gone soon is good enough for me.

    You can stall it out Crooked Benny – but you will be gone soon, either way…

  8. Benzeevi showed his complete contempt for citizens of Tulare, by once again not even allowing them to use a room inside the Evolutions. The fact that he is incompetent, a liar, and a thief has been established beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now our discussion needs to revolve around pushing for him to be investigated and prosecuted.

    • I do hope as I am typing this that an investigation is in the works. The citizens of Tulare are NOT HAPPY about all the corruption that is going on in this town and want an answer to where all their tax money went!!

      Citizens for Hospital Accountability has without a doubt proven their commitment to rid the corruption infecting Tulare.
      I am so grateful for the work they have done…

      Maybe they will branch out to, “Citizens for Tulare Accountability”, and get many active to get rid of the rest of the trash in this town.

    • Roger that. The certain members of the city council, the shady contractors who support people like Kumar, clean out anybody who has a vote to sell.

  9. My doctor friend tells me that there are at least 2 dozen doctors who are yet to be paid their dues.
    I dont think it will take too much IQ to figure out that with such situation, either you are not going to get doctors to work here or you may get completely damaged goods – like the one who was killing patients on the OR table.

    Did we lose specialists at Hillman? Yes
    Did we lose the best Internist & ICU doctor, Dr Rashid? Yes
    Did we lose good surgeons? Yes
    Did we lose hospitalist group? Yes
    Did we lose Anesthesia group? Yes
    Did we lose Orthopedics? Yes

    Are Dr Rucker, Dr Chopra. Dr Ding, Dr. Cohen still waiting for their paycheck from Hillman for work done long time before bankruptcy? Yes

    So, how exactly do you expect to run this hospital?

    • They lost basically all doctors except the Benny-Kumar flunkies Ostrom in the ER and Mackaluso in the Radology. Loyal to the end with their gold contracts and side deals. Still a good core group of doctors on the sidelines in Tulare who would come back and make up the new medical staff: Betre, Kamboj, Evans, Pediatric group, anesthesia group, Rashid, Hong, Kuo, Miyakawa, Patel, Loeffler, Patel, Fabella, Pawan, RonSmith. To name a few.

  10. That will be difficult, Roger$.

    Natural tendency of good people is to keep away from problems/mess.

    Dr Rashid & Dr Patel have relocated to Visalia and have no reason to come back – except perhaps to play politics, if they so choose. Dr Fabella & Pradeep Kamboj use hospitalist and has nothing much to do with hospital. Dr Miyakawa sends his patients to Sansum clinic and was just a puppet of Kumar. Without Kumar, he may not have courage to come back. He is of no use anyway. Dr Kuo, Evans and Smith (Ron) never left. They care for this community and stayed despite hating Benny. Dr Hong has been chased away to Visalia by Shawn & then by Benny but may come back since he has so many patients who would appreciate not having to travel. Dr Loeffler has his hands full and will not come back to work. Dr Pawan is of no value to hospital as his specialty is almost 100% outpatient. Dr Parmod Kumar may not choose to come back either.

    We will need good surgeons, hospitalist, ER doctors. We have good/decent OBG – Betre, Parul, Kang, Borberg.
    What we need most is leadership that focuses on good of community rather than personal politics.

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