Adventist accused of COVID avoidance, profiteering during 2020 infection surge

Editors’ note: This article has been edited to add a quote from Gurvinder Kaur and to correct her gender. Additionally, statements from Adventist Health representatives regarding the hospital’s COVID patient numbers in Tulare were added under ‘Second COVID-19 Isolation Incident Alleged.’ A statement that Kaur said the moves were to maximize the use of its facilities, as well as patient care, was removed as it was not accurate.

 

Kaweah Health’s CEO told the Valley Voice that Adventist Health Central Valley Network (AHCVN) didn’t pull its weight during the height of the massive local winter 2020 COVID-19 outbreak and used the state’s temporary COVID-19 rule exemptions to direct surgical business to its facilities.

The comments came during a face-to-face interview with Kaweah Health CEO Gary Herbst in September. AHCVN has denied any wrongdoing.

 

Angry Health Officials

During the interview, Herbst alleged officials at AHCVN kept three of the network’s facilities — those in Tulare, Selma and Reedley — relatively COVID-19-free by sequestering COVID-19-positive patients at its Hanford hospital.

Herbst was responding to a question about rumors local officials had been angered by Adventist’s COVID-19 response during the winter months of 2020-21, when COVID-19-related hospitalizations were at a local peak. He agreed that ire was raised.

“During the height of the pandemic in December and January, the Adventist Health Central Valley Network made a decision to cohort all of their COVID positive patients in their Hanford facility and to not admit any COVID patients into Tulare, Selma or Reedley,” Herbst said. “At the same time, we’ve had to completely shut down in-patient surgery, shutting down almost every procedure so that we could fully support the entire COVID population of the county.”

 

‘No Substantiated Complaints’

According to Dr. Gurvinder Kaur, Chief Medical Officer for Adventist Health in the Central Valley, the California Department of Public Health was informed about Adventist’s transfer of patients within its network of four local hospitals. Its staffing waivers were never removed.

“Since the pandemic began, there have been no substantiated complaints to CDPH related to facility staffing at Adventist Health Tulare or Adventist Health Reedley,” Kaur said in a written statement issued to the Valley Voice.

“Because we have a network of four hospitals in the Valley and are part of a system of 23 hospitals, we have more options for care than stand-alone hospitals,” Kaur’s statement said. “When appropriate and at the direction of our skilled physicians, we have transferred patients to other hospitals within our network or system. We informed CDPH of this process and provided updates about the movement of patients between Adventist Health facilities.

“Like other hospitals across the nation, all of our hospitals have paused elective surgeries during the pandemic. The decision to resume those surgeries has always been in accordance with state orders and with patient safety at top of mind. From mid-December to mid-February, we cancelled elective surgeries at all four CVN hospitals: Hanford, Reedley, Selma and Tulare,” Kaur added.

The main motivation for the transfers was providing the best medical care, said Kaur.

“Every day, we carefully weigh the best available care options for each of our COVID-19 patients,” Kaur wrote.

 

 

Federal Numbers Back Claim

The number of COVID-19-related admissions reported each week for every hospital in the nation is available at HealthData.gov, a website provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. That agency’s data sets seem to corroborate the idea certain of Adventist’s hospitals were admitting few or no patients for treatment of acute COVID-19-related illness.

Beginning in mid-November 2020, admissions for COVID-related illness increased quickly at Kaweah Delta in Visalia and at Sierra View District Hospital in Porterville. At Kaweah Delta, weekly admissions ranged from 17 to 76 during the autumn, rising to a maximum of 144 admissions for COVID-19 during the week of January 8.

Admission numbers running in the range of 52 to 87 a week during the fall months in Porterville at Sierra View — where the majority of the county’s COVID-19 cases were clustered — jumped to nearly triple that by mid-December. Officials at Sierra View declined to comment or issue a statement for this story.

Meanwhile, Adventist Reedley had a total of just 48 COVID-19-related admissions from October 2020 through February 2021. Adventist Tulare admitted no patients at all for COVID-19-related treatment from the time HHS began collecting data until the week of December 18, 2020.

 

Herbst: State Intervened

The situation was finally rectified when, according to Herbst, the CDPH threatened to end an exemption allowing Adventist to exceed patient-to-nurse ratios in order to treat greater numbers of COVID-19 patients.

“The state finally stepped in and threatened to pull their exemption from the nurse staffing ratios in Hanford, because they were working under an exemption, and said if you don’t start taking care of COVID patients and shut down your elective surgeries, we’re going to take this away from you,” Herbst said.

Adventist Tulare abruptly began regularly admitting COVID-19 patients the week of December 18, 2020. While there were a handful of COVID-19 patient admissions at Adventists Health Reedley also starting that week, those admissions have since slowed to a trickle, with just 14 total COVID-19 patients admitted since February.

In her statement, Kaur was careful to point out there had been no “substantiated” claims against Adventist Health Tulare or Adventist Health Reedley. She did not mention CDPH in relation to Adventist Health Hanford or Adventist Health Selma.

CDPH has not yet responded to a request for comment on the situation and any action it may have taken regarding it.

 

COVID-19 Profiteering Alleged

The point of concentrating COVID-19 patients in the Adventist Health Hanford facility, Herbst said, was to allow Adventist to continue performing elective surgeries.

Hosting elective surgery is a major source of revenue for hospitals, and Adventist, Herbst said, used the transfer of COVID-19-positive patients away from Tulare, Reedley and Selma so it could reroute surgical cases to those facilities. The move, Herbst said, intentionally drew away surgeons and hospitalizations from taxpayer-supported medical centers, undercutting important revenue sources.

“(Adventist) Tulare Hospital advertised itself as the safe non-COVID hospital, and all of our surgeons took their cases there and did their surgery there, while we were losing millions here and taking care of the COVID population,” Herbst said.

 

Second COVID-19 Isolation Incident Alleged

While Adventist resumed admitting patients with COVID-19 symptoms for treatment in Tulare in December 2020, HHS numbers show COVID-19 admissions in Tulare stopped again in March and no COVID-19 admissions were reported there again until August. Adventist Health Reedley reports admitting just 14 COVID-19 patients since March. There is no data available for the Selma facility.

Adventist Health representatives stated that they admitted many COVID-19 patients since March and continue to, though the number of patients dropped to zero during periods of low COVID-19 transmission in the community. Its hospitals began reporting their statistics on Facebook in September.

At times, Tulare’s COVID-19 patient load accounted for more than 25% of hospitalized COVID patients in their network, the representative stated.

The date Adventist’s public numbers dropped coincides with Herbst’s allegation that Adventist resumed the practice of drawing off other hospital district’s potential surgical patients once the peak of the winter COVID-19 outbreak had passed, prompting him to make a complaint to the CDPH.

“But then just recently, within the last few weeks, they went back to that MO,” Herbst said during the September interview. “Our physicians told us that they were taking their surgeries there, and so we called the state.”

COVID-19 patient admissions resumed at Adventist Health Tulare during the week of August 20 and have continued since. According to HealthData.gov, 164 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported at the Adventist Health Tulare emergency department during the week ending October 8. The hospital admitted 10 of those COVID-19 patients for treatment.

38 thoughts on “Adventist accused of COVID avoidance, profiteering during 2020 infection surge

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  1. Dignity health, sutter health all the bigger health care conglomerates did the same thing! It is not Adventist Healths Fault that Kaweah chooses to remain stand alone facility and make poor choices by allowing the bulk of their staff to remain unvaccinated. He should focus more on the lack of safety for patients and staff in his facility and the near loss of Accreditation under his failed leadership.

  2. I think prior to publishing these type of articles , the information should be verified. Much of the content is incorrect.

      • Does Gary Herbst speak for CDPH now ? With out any statements from CDPH how do we trust what one person says . I see false information in this article but that’s typical .By the way ValleyVoice Dr Kaur is a women so you will have to correct that and while your at it , why don’t you give the readers HER entire statement. I have every reason to believe Dr Kaur and Adventist Health.

        • @Xavier Avila You got some nerve sharing YOUR Opinion pertaining to HOSPITALS.
          Take a long look at the “Tower Of Shame”, in Tulare!!
          You’re the last person that should be making ANY STATEMENTS ABOUT HOSPITALS!!!

  3. Quote: “Herbst was responding to a question about rumors local officials had been angered by Adventist’s COVID-19 response during the winter months of 2020-21, when COVID-19-related hospitalizations were at a local peak. He agreed that ire was raised.”
    Care to identify these local officials? Inquiring minds want to know.

  4. If only someone had pointed out how crooked they were when they were snookering the Tulare hospital from it’s overmatched board and attorneys and how they had demonstrated by their streets and actions that they provide medical care selectively and unfairly to the public.

    Oh wait, someone did.

    • Spoiler it was me
      You wanted the Hospital to sit empty for over a year and a half because you wanted Fresno Community to run the hospital even though their CEO is that they didn’t want anything to do with running the Tulare Hospital. You could not see the game being played. You were and are still being fooled by that smooth talking guy who made all kinds of promises that he never delivered on . Lie after lie . Now that is comparable to the actions Benzeevi and Kumar . I trusted them at first but after a while it was evident we were being played. You were the one actually being out matched . You yourself made all kinds of predictions that AH wasn’t going to reopen the Hospital. You were completely wrong and so now you are here pretending to be right about something. Well you’re not . Measure H past with 89 percent of Tulare voters saying yes to AH .

  5. I am disturbed by Dr. Kaur’s remark that they have to be transferred to get the best medical care. What are they getting in Tulare and why would they need to be transferred elsewhere in their network in the Valley. Also why no patients admitted for Covid until Dec 2020? Isn’t Tulare supposed to be a full service facility or not.

  6. Also, why are there so many religious exemptions issued for AH facilities in the Valley? Someone quoted on here saying the bulk of staff at KDH is unvaccinated. AH better look in their own backyard

  7. I am no one official, just a simple Tulare Citizen. When I heard that Tulare AH was diverting covid patients to its Hanford hospital, it made sense. Tulare hospital still had wobbly legs trying to stand after the multi year beating it took and shutting down just to take care of covid could have put it back into jeopardy of shutting down again. Has anyone talked to someone who had an “elective” procedure done during this time and asked them how they felt being able to have it, and not have to worry about covid exposure? There were quite a few seriously needed procedures that got dubbed elective but sure as heck weren’t considered elective by those who needed them.

  8. So Tulare can pick and choose who they care for while the other hospitals were maxed out with Covid. I call BS!! Kaweah was the one drowning. So you’re saying don’t come to Tulare because they’re too wobbly? Doesn’t add up.

    • I own 4 houses and you need a room. You come to my house that is litterally under construction still getting built and I send you another house, in my car, that is fully built and operational, and give you a room. One year later you cry that I turned you away in your hour of need.

  9. As a Tularean I am glad that Adventist Health stepped in and rescued our hospital. I personally think it makes good sense to strive to keep several of their facilities COVID free as much as humanly possible for surgical procedures. The world didn’t stop when COVID made landfall and there were surgical procedures that needed to take place. Kaweah Delta made the decision to not expand out to other cities and to be a stand alone facility. They didn’t have the flexibility as Adventist Health did. That said I also appreciated all the sacrificing that Kaweah endured and continues to endure taking care of the masses during this pandemic. They continue to earn my respect. Thank God we have both hospitals to turn to whatever and whenever the need.

  10. Tulare, Selma and Hanford have all been full of Covid patients for months now.
    Kaweah has its own issues they should be trying to fix.
    Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

  11. Good for you Adventist Health. You took steps to insure the necessary non-Covid medical treatments were still available to your patients. This farce of a pandemic prevented many from receiving required medical procedures and proper healthcare. I applause you!

  12. Gurvinder Kaur a chief medical officer. It just goes to show incompetence Adventist Health Sonora hiring someone who had ZERO experience working in a hospital assigned to be a chief medical officer responsible for inpatient care. You get what you pay for!

  13. Richard Johnston, Dr. Kaur is an excellent board-certified internal medicine physician who has served in hospital-based medicine for many years. She also holds a master’s of health administration from USC. She cared for my father-in-law when he was in the ICU several years ago, and I’ll never forget her excellent, compassionate care. While the Valley Voice knows she’s a physician, they decided not to include that important fact.
    Dr. Kaur serves as chief medical officer for our Hanford, Reedley, Selma and Tulare hospitals, not Sonora.

  14. We also asked the Valley Voice to correct their mischaracterization of Dr. Kaur’s statement, and they didn’t. The reporter wrote that Dr. Kaur maintains decisions were based on the best use of facilities. She never said that. She wrote that our decisions are based on the best care for patients.

    • Christine – after reading your comment, I worked with Catherine to update the article on the website. We removed the line completely but I realize now that it was not addressed the correction.

      I called her and the correction is now updated to note that the line in question was removed — although we removed it at the same time we put up the initial correction.

      “A statement that Kaur said the moves were to maximize the use of its facilities, as well as patient care, was removed” is now added to the correction — its omission was definitely not intentional, since we outlined all of our other changes in the notice.

  15. Xavier is king of the bumbling fools. Of course Adventist is scamming the Tulare taxpayers and making money. They got millions from the Cares Act payments by having a “hospital” in Tulare. Mostly empty. Where is the functioning ICU? Where are the real doctors ? The Tulare hospital board gets cash infusion from its taxpayers. The cash trough just continues to refill. Ms Pickering’s job is to put lipstick on the biggest pig in the Central Valley.

  16. Looking at this issue objectively, one can see that there is merit in sequestering contagious patients in one location. Those who study common epidemiological trends related to hospital-acquired healthcare associated infections (HAI), can attest to the burden HAIs place on the patient, the staff, and the organization. This country was caught off guard in the first wave of Covid. Gowns, gloves, N95 masks, surgical masks, etc… were in short supply necessitating staff to use the same gown & mask for multiple shifts, not to mention the number of patient interactions that occurred while wearing the same PPE. Cross-contamination took place at a staggering rate by necessity. Keeping “clean” non-Covid patients in the other Adventist Health facilities prevented further infections.
    Secondly, Albert Einstein said, “only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason, mastery demands all of a person”. Every one of the registered nurses, certified nursing assistants, physicians, and ancillary staff that devoted themselves to caring strictly for Covid patients became masters of Covid care. Nurses who had spent the majority of their career caring for people with appendicitis, joint replacements, kidney disease, diabetic complications, and the like, all of the sudden became critical care nurses. Not only that, but they did it while watching the people of their community perish day after day. They were in a warzone with very few weapons. But they adapted to fight. They mastered techniques that kept people alive day after day. And this happened because Adventist Health made critical decisions that were based on what was best for the communities it serves. Because Adventist Health has experience with community service. That is the Adventist Health model; to serve the rural communities where they are, rather than expecting everyone to come to them. This is the true spirit of ministry.
    The complaint to the CDPH is the equivalent of throwing a fit. Nowhere in this article is the consideration for what was best for the people of our communities mentioned. Nowhere did the article mention how incredibly difficult this pandemic has been on our community. There’s no discussion on the effect the constant death has had on those providing the bedside care. Or the time away from family they suffered working extra shifts, 18 hour days, and sequestering themselves from their loved ones to protect them from Covid. The only mention is of the KD CEO and of the money they weren’t allowed to make because they are a single hospital, while Adventist Health operates 4 rural hospitals and multiple clinics and continued to care for the communities needs.
    I’m sorry I don’t feel pity for a man who is likely facing termination because of poor leadership, who is trying to distract from his own culpability by “shedding light” on others. If AH had not chosen to divert patients to the best location for care, they would have received backlash from this publication. Either way it seems that the truth doesn’t matter. It seems only one person’s version of the story counts.

  17. Please read this written transcript from the interview conducted by Dave Adalian on Sept. 8 for this article. Gary Herbst has never spoken to anyone at the State, including Jean Chiang, about Adventist Health and the matter discussed in this interview with the Valley Voice. As noted by Gary Herbst in this transcript below, it was the State that questioned Adventist Health on weekly calls as to why it was not accepting COVID patients at its Tulare hospital.

    Written Transcript of Interview
    Dave: On another entirely different subject. I got contacted by somebody who has been prominent in the Tulare hospital situation and that individual tells me that uh people here and people at Sierra View are unhappy with the response from Tulare Adventist that they are not accepting enough COVID patients. COVID patients are having to be shipped out of the area; their hospital is half-full. How do you feel about that is that a correct assessment?

    Gary: It’s no longer correct. It’s exactly how I felt.

    Dave: What happened?

    Gary: During the height of the pandemic in December and January, the Adventist Health central valley network made a decision to cohort all of their covid positive patients in their Hanford facility and to not admit any covid patients into Tulare, Selma or Reedley. At the same time we had to completely shut down inpatient surgery, shutting down almost every procedure so that we could fully support the entire covid population of the county. Tulare hospital advertised itself as the safe non-covid hospital and all of our surgeons took their cases there and did their surgery there while we were losing millions here and taking care of the covid population. The State finally stepped in and threatened to pull their exemption from the nurse staffing ratios in Hanford because they were working under an exemption and said, “If you don’t start taking care of covid patients and shut down your elective surgeries, we’re going to take this away from you.”

    Dave: Really?

    Gary: So they finally started taking patients.

    Dave: When did that happen?

    Gary: Back in January, December-January.

    Dave: Interesting ok.

    Gary: But then just recently within the last few weeks they went back to that MO.

    Dave: Oh I thought as much.

    Gary: Yup and our physicians told us they were taking their surgeries there so we called the State, well, we have almost weekly calls with them, and we called them out on it and so low and behold this week or I think it was last week, Adventist Health announced that they were shutting down all non-emergency inpatient surgeries and Tulare hospital published a graphic showing that they have 29 covid patients in their hospital right now.

    Dave: That’s par for the course.

    Gary: So good for them. They’ve stepped up and maybe they did it under threat, but

    Dave: Somebody held their feet to the fire. They don’t move unless you do. Um who did you talk to at the state about that? Is there somebody I can contact about that?

    Gary: Jean Chiang is the director

    Dave: Is that the same lady from the Bakersfield office that I have?

    Gary: She’s the regional director.

    Dave: I will call her directly. Wonderful.

    • @Laura Florez-McCusker. Aren’t you the Director of Media Relations at Kaweah Health? I had contracted Covid in July 2020, had trouble breathing, and was told over the phone by a Kaweah Health ER nurse that I needed a pre admission screening before I could be seen and had to wait for one of your doctors from your Exeter clinic to call me back because she was on lunch. I told my husband to rush me to Adventist Health in Hanford because I would most likely end up dead by the time the doctor called me back. Luckily, I was immediately seen in the ER at Adventist and admitted / treated for double pneumonia. I was a former employee at Adventist and had asked my old coworker about their Covid admissions. Two of their ICU units were full with Covid patients, and three of their units ( one being an orthopedic unit ) was completely full with Covid patients while one post op unit was full with their surgery patients. 60 patients were in holding in the ER for a bed. From my observation, Adventist Health Hanford were doing their part early on. I’ve personally worked with Dr. Kaur and she is an outstanding and very intelligent physician when it comes to treating patients and managing their care. It didn’t surprise me that she became the Chief Medical Officer. I really do hope that Kaweah Health can learn to do what’s in the best interest of the community instead of pointing blame where it’s not needed.

      • Judy, yes I am the Director of Media Relations at Kaweah Health. I am sorry to hear that we did not meet your expectations. If you or anyone reading this thread are ever unsatisfied with the care you are receiving at Kaweah Health or have received at Kaweah Health, please call Ed Largoza, our Director of Patient Experience, at 559-624-5051. Judy, I will pass your message on to the rest of our leadership team.

    • Did he misspeak when he said this?

      “Yup and our physicians told us they were taking their surgeries there so we called the State, well, we have almost weekly calls with them, and we called them out on it and so low and behold this week or I think it was last week, Adventist Health announced that they were shutting down all non-emergency inpatient surgeries and Tulare hospital published a graphic showing that they have 29 covid patients in their hospital right now.”

      “so we called the State, well, we have almost weekly calls with them, and we called them out on it and so low and behold this week or I think it was last week,”

  18. I don’t understand how anyone excuses Adventist Health’s behavior. Kaweah taking the brunt of the pandemic is not because they choose to be a stand alone facility, it’s because they have compassion for sick people. Meanwhile AH is stealing business. Give it a rest saying they kept the hospital “safe”. EVERY HOSPITAL SHOULD HAVE STEPPED UP. I was even told by Xavier in previous comments that AH was doing their part. Complete and utter nonsense. They would not even run Covid tests or drive thru locations for Tulareans. They don’t tell you how many sick people they turned away to keep a “safe” hospital. Everyone went to KDH simply because there was -0- compassion for the sick people of Tulare.

    • Lisa
      Visalia has twice the population of Tulare so of course they are going to have more people.
      Also I took my family to a Adventist Clinic in Tulare to get tested in December. They tested all of us in our car and I saw other people getting tested in their cars as well. The fact is not one sick person got turned away ! Not one . Adventist Heath has more compassion then anyone.

  19. Dave A
    I don’t believe that is your real name. You remind me of all the Benzeevi goons attacking the CFHA group back in the days before the recall. Just like you , they hid behind fake names . No integrity.
    For the record. All hospitals got tax payer money from the CARES ACT Including Kaweah. Adventist Health took care of a lot of covid patients and did an excellent job . They have a excellent ICU and real doctors. The Tulare hospital board does get taxpayer money and its puts it to good use . We have spent it on the earth quake upgrades and other capital projects. We also have to pay out obligations which were agreed to . Which is debt caused by Benzeevi and the old board . You might want to do some research on that because you sound both misinformed and uninformed . Adventist Health has invested 40 million dollars in Tulare . Calling them a name just doesn’t fit but it does say something about you .

  20. Sad to see this pitting one hospital against the other mentality going on. Too damn much toxicity in the world why invite more of it into our communities. Both hospitals provide much needed services in our area, quit beating the drums of toxic negativity. There is enough business (healthcare-wise) for both to thrive. Hospital CEO’s will come and go, as they always have done. We need to support and preserve our hospitals and keep them up and running and strong as they are vital to all of us. If things happen along the way that needs to addressed (as every thing in life does) then fix it as best as can be done without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  21. Adventist never turned away 1 covid patient. They moved them to Hanford where they consolidated the care and had additional support from the DOD. 2 ICU docs on at all times, bigger ICU and let’s not forget they did shut down surgical services at their biggest hospital in order to combat the covid surge.

  22. Barbara, I agree. Has anyone asked if AH is going to be around after 2023?? They sure aren’t going to contribute to the Tower being finished, they want Tulare Taxpayers to do it. Geez, the latest fundraiser by the Foundation is to get a percentage of pizza profit from Mountain Mike’s. That’s something a PTA or elementary school would do.
    Tulare’s HOSPITAL needs help. Not more CLINICS!

    .

  23. (Adventist health is the problem?)

    Failure to monitor and prevent theft and abuse of federally-controlled drugs by a contracted employee who worked in the emergency department and the former Department Chair of Anesthesia at Kaweah Health Medical Center led health authorities to threaten sanctions that could have resulted in the Kaweah Delta Health Care District losing a substantial portion of its federal funding.

    According to an inspection report by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), an ongoing pattern of negligence on the part of the district’s governing board, administrators and care providers in securing the hospital’s supply of dangerous controlled pharmaceuticals against theft and mishandling led to the overdose death of a contracted employed in a public restroom at its main facility.

    Kaweah Health CEO Gary Herbst said there now appears to be “a direct correlation” between two recent diversion events—instances of healthcare workers stealing prescription medication—at Kaweah Health and the delay in the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) greenlighting of the expanded emergency department

  24. (Adventist health is the problem?)
    A 70-year-old patient at Kaweah Delta Medical Center had his eye socket shattered in an attack by a roommate who hospital officials knew to be violent and schizophrenic, according to a state oversight agency report.

    In the report released Thursday, the agency stated the hospital did not properly supervise the aggressive patient who had attacked before.

    The California Department of Public Health fined the hospital $52,000 after finding Kaweah Delta failed to provide safety in the February 2018 incident

    The California Department of Public Health has again found Kaweah Delta Medical Center had inadequate nursing levels in one of the hospital’s medical units.

    The staffing levels so concerned Kaweah Delta nurses, they told state investigators the quality of care for patients was in jeopardy, according to the publicly available report

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