Controversy arrives with new leaders at Tulare hospital

Tulare’s hospital has new leadership with a checkered past.

In a surprising move, Randy Dodd, Tulare Adventist’s president, resigned his position effective May 15. Despite the apparently amicable parting of the ways, rumors that reached the Tulare Local Health Care District’s (TLHCD) Board of Directors hinted Dodd had been fired. Adventist Health Central Valley Network (AHCVN), however, confirmed Dodd departed of his own accord.

“Randy Dodd did resign effective May 15,” said Gabriela Ornelas, communications manager for AHCVN. “We definitely appreciate his service.”

Ornelas said Dodd left AHCVN “in order to pursue other executive opportunities.”

 

Praise for Dodd

TLHCD President Kevin Northcraft praised Dodd’s efforts on the hospital’s behalf and indicated his departure may have been part of a larger reorganization forced by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re doing a reorganization. He (Dodd) was doing a great job here,” Northcraft said. “I think all the hospitals in the country are having to reorganize in this pandemic.”

More than 40 employees at Tulare Adventist were furloughed in mid-May as Adventist laid off in excess of 1,000 of its 31,000 employees. Tulare Adventist, Northcraft said, lost as much as $1 million in a recent one-month period due to a severe dropoff of the patient census.

“People are just not getting treatment,” he said.

Northcraft also said the timing appeared to be ripe for Dodd to move on.

“I understand he was close to retirement,” Northcraft said. “He got a good package.”

Dodd was with Advenist for 25 years.

 

Banned for Life

Initially, AHCVN indicated its president, Andrea Kofl, would take over Dodd’s responsibilities at Tulare Adventist. The move became a cause for concern when reports resurfaced of Kofl’s involvement in the misuse of employee contribution funds at the USA Star Healthcare Group where Kofl was CEO and part owner. The company was registered in 2002 and filed for bankruptcy the next year.

Kofl, along with business partner Richard Yardley, was ordered to pay damages of more than $600,000 after the US District Court found the pair had used funding intended for employee compensation to cover operating expenses at the Elastar Community Hospital they owned through the USA Star Healthcare Group. Kofl and Yardley were banned for life “from serving as fiduciaries or service providers” to any employee retirement plan covered under the Employee Retirement Income Act (ERISA).

“Retirement savings are a vital part of ensuring a steady income after we leave the workforce, and that’s why they are given special legal protections,” said Phyllis C. Borzi, assistant secretary of the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, in a 2011 statement following the judgement against Kofl and Yardley. “Unfortunately, the individuals entrusted with protecting this plan violated those safeguards.”

Elastar Community Hospital was forced to close by the judge overseeing USA Star’s bankruptcy, citing excessive debt. The closure shuttered an emergency department that treated 13,000 patients annually.

 

Resume Gap

Kofl was ordered to make monthly payments of $1,500 to pay the judgement amount, as well as to maintain life insurance to cover repayment in the event of her death. It is unknown if Kofl is still making the payments in the suit, which was brought by the US Department of Labor.

Kofl’s resume, as it appears on the website Linkedin.com, contains a 10-year gap corresponding to the period when she worked for USA Star Healthcare Group.

The gap also includes time Kofl spent as executive vice president for United Western Medical Centers (UWMC). UWMC found itself embroiled in controversy in the late 1990s when it sold its nonprofit hospitals. By law, part of the proceeds from the sales were to be used to establish a foundation to care for needy patients who formerly relied on UWMC for treatment. Promised $40 million from the sales, the foundation eventually received far less. UWMC execs, including Kofl, received $1.1 million in bonuses, partially for their work in overseeing the sale of the nonprofit assets. In 1997, the Los Angeles Times reported that “experts in nonprofit hospital conversions say bonuses of that magnitude at a nonprofit organization generally aren’t proper. They particularly frown on special awards to executives orchestrating the sale of nonprofit assets.”

Northcraft said the judgement against Kofl, her partner and their company is a thing of the past and should not concern those who rely on Tulare Adventist for care.

“That’s really old stuff,” he said. “She’s been really great to work with. She’s the head of the network, not just our hospital. We’ve seen a lot of her. She has a real passion for her job.”

Adventist declined to address Kofl’s past.

“We have no comment on that information,” their spokeswoman said.

 

Tulare Native to Administrate

Northcraft welcomed the change in leadership and praised Dodd’s work and the performance of Adventist.

“We’ll have to get used to a new person,” he said. “If I had to say anything, it’s how good it was to work with Randy. Things are still looking good.”

Three days after Northcraft made this comment, AHCVN adjusted Tulare Adventist’s leadership again, this time announcing Sheri Pereira, RN, MSN, will serve as the hospital’s new site administrator. Pereira, a Tulare native, has worked for Adventist for 17 years, most recently as an associate patient care executive at Tulare Adventist.

“I’m grateful that Sheri will continue to lead our patient care in Tulare and support our growth in the community as we expand our mission to live God’s love,” Kofl said in a press release.

 

Low Patient Census Count

The press release announcing Pereira’s new position also praised her for her role in reopening Tulare Adventist’s birthing center in August. However, since then the hospital has seen only 80 or so births. Combined with low census numbers due to the COVID-19 outbreak, this slow start has led to speculation on whether AHCVN will exercise its option to leave the TLHCD after five years.

While Northcraft acknowledges the possibility of Adventist’s premature departure, he thinks it very unlikely, citing their commitment to opening other facilities in Tulare.

“They have the legal option,” Northcraft said. “They’re building a new clinic in town. They have a huge investment in Tulare. Hopefully, they’re in it for the 30 years of the term.”

Adventist’s Ornelas reaffirmed her company’s intention to continue doing business in Tulare and operating its hospital. She pointed to its construction efforts outside the hospital campus as evidence they intend to stay. Adventist is currently building a rapid care clinic at the Tulare Marketplace shopping center, a rural health clinic on Hillman Avenue and a second medical office next to its specialty medical office on Merritt Avenue.

“All of those offices will continue to work. We’re definitely committed to Tulare. That will not change,” she said. “Our hospital remains open and we are still working to become a full-service hospital.”

 

Rumors Strongly Denied

That sentiment has not stopped speculation, including the circulation of a rumor Adventist’s purpose in taking over operation of Tulare’s hospital was to allow it to build the clinics currently under construction, facilitating its residency program for newly minted medical doctors by providing them a place to practice. Once the clinics are operational, according to the unfounded speculation, Advenist will abandon the unprofitable hospital.

Financial loss due to the COVID-19 outbreak appears to have heightened those fears. Northcraft, despite that, remains confident in Adventist.

“We went with somebody and kind of turned over the reins to them,” he said. “We have to live with what their decisions are. Nobody saw this coming.”

Adventist, for its part, says its work in the South Valley is far from done.

“We remain committed to Tulare,” Ornelas said.

In Depth: Tulare Regional Medical Center

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