Tulare’s hospital could get an infusion of $22m if a proposal by Assemblyman Devon Mathis succeeds. As the hospital’s board explores Mathis’ proposal and other options, it has decided to stop negotiating with its former management company for a settlement.
Mathis presented the proposal to the California State Assembly’s Budget Subcommittee for Health and Human Services on Monday. Community members and hospital leaders, including board members, spoke to lawmakers to support the proposal as well.
“Despite the best efforts, the board has entered Chapter 9 bankruptcy and needs your help,” Mathis told the subcommittee. “The pressure to reopen the medical center is mounting at a rapid pace because of the extreme healthcare needs beset upon the community.”
“Reopening the hospital is a matter of life and death for the people of Tulare,” Mathis said in a press release. “The state needs to be a partner as we work to get the medical center’s doors open as quickly as possible.”
Two residents have already “died in the streets” due to a lack of access to healthcare, Mathis said.
Xavier Avila, a member of the Tulare Local Healthcare District board, sat next to Mathis and echoed the case for funding from the community’s point of view, noting the impact that the hospital’s closure has had on services in Visalia.
“Anyone can go to the Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia and see the two tents that are pitched, and see so many people. And I recognize those people,” Avila said. “They’re sick, they’re in pain, they have fevers, they have injuries. And they don’t know when they’re gonna be seen by a doctor — and it’s horrifying to see that.”
Funds vital to reopening effort
Between $18-22m could be needed to reopen, Rich Gianello, one of the hospital’s turnaround consultants, told the subcommittee.
While some of that amount could be received through an affiliation with Community Medical Centers of Fresno, the lien placed on Evolutions — a popular gym owned by the hospital district — by the hospital’s former management company, Healthcare Conglomerate Associates, is a large impediment to seeking outside financing from Community or other lenders.
“It’s hung up right now in the bankruptcy where the prior bankruptcy company has placed a lien on some of the assets that we might be able to use as collateral for that loan. We believe that lien — at least our attorneys believe that lien is not valid, but it will take quite a while to work that through the courts,” he said.
He stressed that the funding the hospital is seeking wouldn’t be used to pay pre-bankruptcy debts, and only be put towards reopening the hospital.
Deanne Martin-Soares, a member of the Citizens for Hospital Accountability group and former Tulare hospital board member, spoke to inform lawmakers on the history of the hospital — and the group’s vision of the hospital’s future. Her full remarks are available below in a letter signed by multiple members of the group.
“Neither Dr. Benzeevi [the HCCA CEO], nor HCCA, had any prior experience managing healthcare facilities of any size—let alone a hospital. HCCA was formed as a company after being selected to manage and came on the scene after the request for proposal process bids had been closed,” she stated. “Dr. Kumar not only gained the favor from other board members to accomplish this, he made sure that all elected officials, via sizable campaign contributions, did not pursue any investigation into suspicious activity at TRMC.
“Our ultimate goal has always been to have a strong and vital community hospital. We have nearly achieved our goal. Community Medical Centers, based in Fresno, has committed to assisting our hospital through management of the facility. They will invest in our hospital once we can obtain adequate funding to re-open.
“It has been estimated to cost $15-20 million to re-open, and being undercapitalized is extremely ill-advised. This difficult step to attain financing is the last remaining roadblock to re-opening. HCCA has bled our reserves, bled our assets, and bled our community dry.”
Alex Gutierrez, a Tulare resident and son of Tulare hospital board member Senovia Gutierrez, appealed to lawmakers to consider approving the funding.
“We are organized. Our community has fought hard, and our community is now proud to say that we are Tulare Strong,” Gutierrez said. “Currently, this funding that you are considering would be very significant to help us open up our hospital, so we can show you and everybody that we can flourish, and that crooked people cannot put down a whole organized community.”
Mike Jamaica, a Tulare hospital board member, also traveled to Sacramento to speak.
“We’ve been put in a very bad situation and we’re doing the best that we can with what has been left to us, and we’re trying to come out of this hole and trying to be very productive here for our community and our surrounding areas,” Jamaica said. “With that, I hope that you gentlemen can take a real good look at this — and we need your help. We desperately need your help.”
The issue was held open for future action.
Members of Citizens for Hospital Accountability are working to start a community outreach campaign that would implore state legislators to approve the funding for Tulare’s hospital, according to a representative of the group.
No settlement on the table for HCCA
The day after the meeting, a press release from the Tulare Local Healthcare District stated that the board has “decided to remove any offer to settle litigation issues” with HCCA.
“Negotiations [with HCCA] were moving very slowly, if at all, and we need to pursue more viable and less repugnant ways to get our hospital reopened,” Kevin Northcraft, the district board’s president, said.