Tensions have been rising in the Sierra View Zone 1 race between Ela Pandya and Dr. Bindu Sagar Reddy as barbs are exchanged in newspapers, social media, and campaign ads.
But Zone 1 isn’t the only election on the ballot. Zone 2 incumbent Dr. Gaurang Pandya, Ela’s husband, is being challenged by Dr. Kuldeep Jagpal. And in Zone 4, Incumbent Dr. Rakesh Jindal has two challengers, business owner Victoria Porter and Physician assistant Liberty Lomeli.
A Chance for Diversity on the Board
Zone 4 has been the most civil of the three races. No criticism was spoken and no endorsements were made for the other two districts.
Liberty Lomeli is the only Hispanic running for the board in a hospital district that is predominantly Hispanic. He brings a rich background of experience working in the fields as a teenager and then spending 10 years in the military as a medic. After the military he went to Fresno State then continued his education at Stanford, receiving his Physician assistant degree. He currently is the assistant medical director at Family Healthcare Network (FHCN.)
Lomeli believes he can raise the quality of care in terms of the hospital’s performance and in its statewide scores such as Leap Frog. If Sierra View compares its performance with cath labs around the country, he believes it will provide local doctors with a reachable goal and improve quality of care.
A similar system succeeded at improving care at FHCN while he was assistant director.
“World class care here can come if the doctors are given feedback on how they are doing.”
Lomeli would also like to see more collaboration between local health clinics and the hospital, which he says is currently non-existent.
“I’m all for the community. Whatever is best for the constituents,” said Lomeli.
Victoria Porter has built a medical office from the ground up, helping her husband set up his practice as an orthopedic surgeon. Porter is very familiar with the business side of medical care and with the hospital.
And Porter hears firsthand the patients’ concerns about the hospital.
“Not a month goes by that I don’t hear a patient complain about the hospital. The out migration needs to be addressed by the Sierra View District.”
She said the quality of care and bedside manner are the most common complaints. Porter says that it is the way these problems are addressed by Sierra View that concerns her the most.
She has seen improvement, though. “Over the last few years the hospital has hired a patient liaison which was a positive step,” she said.
Porter said the communication between the physicians, administration, and the community could be a lot better. That in turn would attract more doctors which the Valley sorely needs. Sierra View needs to do forums, she said, like the ones held by Kaweah Delta that involve the health community and the general public instead of just taking surveys.
“It’s even more challenging in small communities to combat rumors. So communication needs to be even better,” said Porter.
She is challenging the incumbent because in the four years that Jindal has been on the board Porter has not seen the hospital’s issues being addressed. She has also not observed that the community is more comfortable with the hospital.
”The community does not feel like it is being heard. It really needs to change.”
“I just hope that no matter who gets elected that they can bring that change,” said Porter.
The incumbent, Jindal, ran for the board four years ago because, “I raised three kids here and have been in practice for 42 years. The community has been very good to me.”
He says that he brought a lot of leadership experience with him when he won in 2016. He had been Chief of Staff twice and was the president of a medical care management organization. Jindal was also Chair of the board three of the four years. “That speaks to the confidence that the other board members have in me.”
A lot has been accomplished during his term, which he attributes to the entire board not just himself.
The Cath Lab has been expanded and the urology and cancer centers have been opened. Jindal said that these improvements are the result of past boards that made good decisions and he was proud that the current board was able to complete its vision.
The current board has made a Joint Powers Agreement with Kaweah Delta Health Care District to share resources and spread the risk of uninsured patients. They have also developed a Graduate Medical Education program that will bring in residents starting next year. He also said that Sierra View was just starting to open its own medical clinics to expand care.
Jindal wanted to point out that all the accomplishments of the board were made possible by the adept leadership of Sierra View CEO Donna Hefner.
“Our board has given clear-cut, unambiguous, good direction to the administration and I would like it to stay that way.”
Asked who he endorsed for the other two zones, Jindal said he had some good advice.
“All you have to do is pick up the phone and talk to your doctor to get some unbiased information. Most doctors and hospital staff are well informed, especially in this small district.”
Mudslinging continues in Zone 2
The battle extends beyond the ballot box for Sierra View Hospital District 2.
Incumbent Dr. Gaurang Pandya has been critical of Sierra View’s contract with Comfort Care Anesthesia. His challenger, Dr. Kuldeep Jagpal, owns the company.
Pandya claims that Comfort Care is overpaid for the amount of services and quality of care provided. Jagpal says his company gets market rate, or maybe even less, pointing out that the company has a huge overhead with insurance, accounting, and employees.
Jagpal says he has been able to build an excellent team of anesthesiologists in a very competitive market and in a very challenging region such as Tulare County. “But we don’t provide anesthesia services to his (Pandya’s) surgery center and won’t. Other providers have also said no,” according to Jagpal.
“I think Dr. Pandya is just jealous of our contract. My goal is to just ignore it completely.”
Jagpal says Pandya is “causing trouble as a director and intimidating, harassing and bullying the surgeons and staff.”
“I have been vocal while on the board,” said Pandya, “and that makes the administration uneasy.”
Zone 1 candidate Ela Panya has been severely criticized over her residency, but questions about Jagpal’s primary residence have also surfaced.
Jagpal’s facebook says he lives in Morgan Hill and his phone number has a 408 area code. His facebook highlights some of his favorite restaurants in the city.
Jagpal says he has houses all over but is registered to vote and spends most of his time in Porterville. To administer his company’s contract with Sierra View he says he has to be available and that his house is located close to the hospital.
“It’s an old facebook and has not been updated,” said Jagpal.
Jagpal’s first real job after his residency in 2000 was in Porterville. He then moved to the Bay Area for a few years but then moved permanently to Porterville in 2008.
While candidates have criticized the number of doctors on the hospital board, ironically four doctors are running in this election, including both candidates for Zone 2.
Even Dr. Bindu Sagar Reddy, candidate for Zone 1, said he would prefer more community business people rather than doctors on the board.
But Pandya disagrees. He says the business community gives guidance on how the hospital can make a lot of money or pull in a 10% margin. Pandya said that business mangers on the board wanted to get rid of the hospital’s eye clinic.
Past hospital boards invested well so he said the district is on good financial footing. But Pandya wants the hospital not to make ends meet through its investments but though the income generated by day to day operations. The money made on the investments he feels should be used to improve quality of care and services offered to the constituents in the district.
Pandya feels he should be re-elected because he and his fellow trustees have done a good job over the eight years he has sat on the board, and he has seen improvement at the hospital.
Jagpal counters, “Most employees have appreciated what I have done for the hospital and my neighbors want me to be on the board. Sierra View feels like a family and the hospital feels like home.”
He said that the last article published by the Valley Voice concerning the election critical of his company actually helped him.
“If honest, hard working, and good at what you do you don’t have to worry about anything else.”