The Tulare Local Healthcare District has an emergency on its hands.
Residents within the district’s boundaries are likely well aware of that — but the board voted Wednesday night to make it official and declare an emergency and disaster.
The idea came from Assemblyman Devon Mathis, multiple board members said, and if their plan is successful it could result in emergency funding from the governor’s office, even after a funding proposal from Mathis fell on deaf ears in Sacramento.
“It’s not irrational to think that this is an emergency that deserves some recognition,” Kevin Northcraft, the district board’s chairman said.
California’s Government Code section dealing with local emergencies states that a local emergency is defined as “the duly proclaimed existence of conditions of disaster or of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the territorial limits of a county, city and county, or city, caused by such conditions as air pollution [..] or other conditions, other than conditions resulting from a labor controversy, which are or are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment, and facilities of that political subdivision and require the combined forces of other political subdivisions to combat.”
The move brings about a series of firsts, according to one of the district’s attorneys, Todd Wynkoop.
While the code specifically states cities and counties, and research did not find a case where a district had declared a local emergency, it did not appear that the board would be barred from declaring a state of emergency, he told the board.
“Typically in legislation that covers the district it is not named, but it is a political subdivision of the State of California, so while there’s no precedent of a district having done so, it appears to be within the authority of the district to declare an emergency,” Wynkoop said.
While no precedent existed for an emergency declared for financial reasons, and no law specifically cited it as a reason to declare one — again, there was nothing specifically prohibiting it, Wynkoop told the board.
“To use a very simple legal term — the worst that can happen is that [the governor] can say no,” he said.
The City of Tulare or County of Tulare would still need to endorse the resolution for it to be sent to the governor’s office, Northcraft said.
Northcraft told the public that he met with Pete Vander Poel, the Tulare County Supervisor representing Tulare, and was interested in bringing the proposal to the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors.
“He’s anxious to talk to the county director of emergency management, and possibly put it on the county board agenda as early as next Tuesday,” Northcraft said. “It may be an off the wall kind of idea, but I think it has some legs.”
If the governor approved funding based off of the district’s declaration, it would be a clear first — something that all on the board seemed to understand.
“If it goes through, we set a precedent, right?” Xavier Avila, a board member, asked.
Wynkoop said it would.
A letter-writing campaign for funding from the state still continues, Jan Smith, the Executive Director of the Tulare Hospital Foundation, said; however, letter writers are now being encouraged to reach out to the governor directly.
RFP Process Targets Identified, Committee Members Named
Dignity Health, Adventist Health, Community Medical Centers and the Kaweah Delta Healthcare District were identified as four targets of the “targeted RFP” process discussed at the board’s last meeting.
“We’ve got confirmation that all four of the potential organizations that we can be compatible with have received the RFP and are working on it,” Blitz said.
Board members expressed determination that the hospital remain just that — and not absorbed into a network of clinics or turned into another non-acute care facility.
“We want this to be a hospital and nothing less than that. They [the bidders] have to understand that,” Avila said.
The board did not move to put such a restriction into its RFP. It was instead advised to place such conditions in a potential contract or lease agreement.
Board members did move to name their picks for an ad-hoc committee that would provide recommendations during the RFP process.
Those picked were:
- Dr. Ed Henry, chosen by Steve Harrell,
- Victor Gonzalez, chosen by Mike Jamaica,
- Jennifer Burcham, chosen by Senovia Gutierrez,
- Derek Jackson, chosen by Xavier Avila,
- Ken Nunes, chosen by Kevin Northcraft.
“All those of you that were afraid you were going to get appointed,” Northcraft said, “you can relax now.”
Lawsuits Nearing Settlement
After the board came back from its closed session deliberations, Wynkoop announced that the board had reached a final resolution of a lawsuit brought by the Tulare Regional Medical Center’s former medical staff and medical executive committee.
The committee had filed suit against the district after it was ousted by former board members and HCCA in January 2016 in favor of a new medical staff, with an executive committee including one former board member and his wife.
John Harwell, an attorney representing the MEC, previously called the staff’s ouster unprecedented.
“I’ve been doing this for 37 years, and not only I have I never seen this, I’ve never heard of it in the United States,” he told the Voice in March 2016.
The settlement agreement would not be available until it was signed by the other party, Wynkoop said.
“The MEC case is very important towards the reopening process, because it brings us back a doctors’ group that represents them — the medical executive committee,” Northcraft said after Wynkoop’s announcement. “It re-establishes them so we can start working with our doctors and get them on board to be part of the reopening process.”
A resolution “in principle” was also reached in a case brought against the district by Senovia Gutierrez in September 2017, Wynkoop said.
Gutierrez’ case was filed the same day — September 27, 2017 — that Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA), the hospital’s former management company, and the district’s attorney recognized her as being part of the district’s board.
Between July 26 and September 27, Gutierrez was considered by HCCA and the district’s attorney — which concurrently represented HCCA — to not be a board member, though her election was certified and she was sworn in.
HCCA and its attorney were joined in that opinion by former board members Linda Wilbourn and Richard Torrez.
Gutierrez’ suit alleges that Torrez’ and HCCA’s intransigence — Wilbourn was not named in the suit, as it was filed after she abruptly resigned her seat — caused injury to the people of her district since she was unable to represent them on the district’s board.
She sought a declaration to be made by the district that she was a board member as of July 25, when her Oath of Office was administered. The full suit is available by clicking here.