UPDATE: According to a statement from the Tulare County District Attorney’s office, investigators were on the scene at the hospital for “well over 33 hours straight”, collecting evidence since 9am Thursday.
Healthcare Conglomerate Associates will leave the Tulare Regional Medical Center for the last time on November 22 at 5pm.
Additionally, during argument, it was revealed that the hospital had been served with a search warrant from the Tulare County District Attorney’s office. The warrant was served with the assistance of the Tulare Police Department.
The district attorney’s office served a warrant for “business records and emails” seized “computers, cell phones, external storage devices, flash drives, payroll records and all emails for a total of seven email addresses,” according to a statement from the district attorney’s office.
“As there may be attorney client, doctor patient records contained in the seized items, the electronic data will be reviewed first by a court appointed special master who will then provide all non-privileged information to the investigators of the district attorney for a thorough search for any and all relevant evidence,” the statement continued.
During the proceeding, Levinson didn’t hold back his opinion of the search.
“I can’t speculate as to why that happened, but we know that the district attorney is under the thumb of the [Tulare Local Healthcare] District,” Levinson told the judge.
The office had previously served a warrant at the Southern Inyo Hospital, another hospital managed by HCCA.
Ashley McDow, an attorney representing the Southern Inyo Hospital in their bankruptcy case, stated that the district attorney’s office had “checkboxes” which included “that the property was stolen or embezzled,” “things were used for the means of committing a felony,” and “that these things are things that can be seized.”
“[Investigators] believe that a number of things have been transferred — equipment, medications — that those things have been transferred from Tulare to Inyo,” McDow said at the time.
In Inyo, the officials ultimately left with “a couple thumbdrives full of files.”
HCCA had been previously set to leave the premises on November 27; the Tulare Local Healthcare District, the legal entity which owns TRMC, asked for that to be moved up to today.
That would have given the district the ability to reopen the Evolutions gym, potentially as soon as this weekend.
HCCA had objected to the move, stating that it needed additional time to clear out any equipment it may have and to move personnel records, which it intends to keep.
Nurses and other staff at the hospital are employees of HCCA under the terms of the Management Services Agreement, and although many were transferred to the company, the personnel records still belong to the company.
The district had came to court hoping for an order rejecting the contract today — November 16. That didn’t happen — and at one point Hon. Rene Lastreto II appeared ready to leave the 27th as the rejection date.
Lastreto admonished both sides for the rushed manner in which the case has proceeded before hearing arguments from Riley Walter, the attorney representing the district, and Mark Levinson, representing HCCA.
“This case is contested — many things in this case have been done on extremely short time for a case of this magnitude and difficulty,” Lastreto said. “This is not something the court appreciates.”
That doesn’t end with the order — Lastreto denied, without prejudice, the district’s request to:
- order banks to stop sweeping funds from the district’s accounts to HCCA,
- give the District unfettered access to its buildings and equipment,
- turn over bank statements, deposit records, check registers, PIN numbers,
- turn over policy and procedure manuals,
- and prevent HCCA from removing assets, except personnel records, without 24-hour advance notice to the district and an opportuniy to dispute any removals.
Lastreto stated that he couldn’t order those on short notice, and advised them that an adversarial proceeding would likely be a better venue.
The Voice has reached out to Dr. Benny Benzeevi for comment. When one is received, this piece will be updated.