Tulare hospital, with loan, inching closer to reopening

Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) employees won’t miss a paycheck, and Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC) is one step closer to reopening its doors.

Quick Decision

At a very brief meeting held April 4, the District’s governing board voted 4-0 to accept a one-time $450,000 loan from Community Medical Centers, a Fresno-based medical management group.

The cash will be used to cover payroll and accounts payable.

“It was to cover payroll and a bill, that’s why they were doing it,” said TLHCD board member Steve Harrell.

The District has until May 1 to repay the no-interest loan. Current revenue streams will cover repayment, Harrell said.

“My question was how are we going to have that money in hand,” he said. “I was showed we have it on paper.”

Evolutions Not For Sale

The other item on the April 2 agenda was consideration of the sale and lease-back of the District’s public fitness facility, Evolutions, and the “lease of hospital facilities.” Had the board opted to sell the property, it would have leased the land back from the new owner and continued operations there.

It will not take that step. There was no report following the board’s closed-session decision to retain the Evolutions property at 1425 E. Prosperity Avenue.

A rumor circulated the District was considering selling the property to Dr. Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi, former manager of the District and CEO of Health Care Conglomerate Associates (HCCA).

HCCA holds a deed of trust for Evolutions and an adjacent plot, and has filed a pair of lawsuits against its former client.

Last month, the District, in a 3-2 split decision, voted to settle both suits. According to a District insider, Benzeevi will not get his hands on the District’s land.

Reopening TRMC

While the loan means the District will remain solvent as it undergoes reorganization under Chapter 9 of the federal Bankruptcy Code, there is still no firm date for the reopening of Tulare Regional.

Harrell, however, says he expects the hospital to reopen well within the next six months.

“We’re going to be open way before that,” he said.

Still, Harrell reports the road to getting patients treated at Tulare Regional is long, difficult and winding, and it’s proved to be full of unexpected pitfalls and delays. Yet Tulare Regional could open again at any time.

“Throughout the whole thing, I’m so optimistic I’ll tell you the next month, then we get something thrown at us,” he said.

Special Meeting Friday?

At its March meeting, the board tabled beginning the formalities for finding a management company willing to step into the gap left by the District’s estrangement with HCCA.

Instead, it will discuss issuing the official request for proposals this month, perhaps at a special meeting to be held Friday, April 20.

“There are a couple of issues that are in the wind,” Harrell said. “We may have a special meeting to get them wrapped up. Things are moving.”

The board, he said, has a single purpose.

“Every single thing that we do is putting us one step closer to opening the hospital,” Harrell said. “That’s the only goal.”

Community Medical Centers is the current preferred choice to take over operations at TRMC. The privately-held, not-for-profit company operates three hospitals in Fresno and a third in Clovis, as well as several other health-care facilities in Fresno.

The loan between TLHCD and Community signals that relationship remains healthy.

Bone to Pick

Meanwhile, Harrell still has an issue with Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones, who recently called Harrell a liar on social media after TRMC failed to open by a date Jones said Harrell had given during a meeting of the Tulare City Council earlier this year.

A pair of recordings of the meeting in question show Harrell did not give a date for the reopening of the hospital.

Harrell has been a regular attendee at Tulare City Council meetings since that body placed former Chief Wes Hensley on leave, eventually firing the long-time veteran officer.

Harrell is a former member of the Tulare Police Department.

After Harrell left the most recent Council meeting, he says Jones walked back his comments about Harrell and the TLHCD Board.

“I was called and told he (Jones) made a statement about me ‘lying,’ that he was somewhat confused by the comments he read in the paper,” Harrell said. “The only problem was that the comments were in your article (in the Valley Voice), which was written a month after the fact.”

Harrell said he intends to continue regularly attending Tulare City Council meetings, specifically to hear any remarks Jones might make first-hand.

In Depth: Tulare Regional Medical Center

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