BCHF: Sun Investigates
Last updated 9/3/2020 at 9:11am
The Borrego Sun started an investigative journey into Borrego Community Health Foundation (BCHF) with the firing of two of the three licensed professionals at the Borrego Springs Clinic, during the pandemic.
Jan Jones, family/nurse practitioner, and psychologist Dr. Pam McEvoy were both fired in May, without any previous notice or explanation. Both were long-time, popular providers at the clinic. Charles Collum, a clinic nurse, and last remaining professional resigned that same month over the treatment of Jones and Dr. McEvoy.
All this was happening while the clinics only doctor, Dr. James Huot, was on an undisclosed hiatus for four months, leaving the clinic with no medical doctor. No one has ever disclosed, even to clinic staff, the reason for Dr. Huot’s absence.
When the Sun asked about the firings, BCHF blamed the pandemic for the clinic’s loss of medical professionals, explaining in a statement that “one-third of their employees had been laid off, furloughed, or working reduced hours.”
The Foundation never answered why Jones and Dr. McEvoy had been let go so abruptly, or why they could not have been furloughed or given reduced hours.
Complaints about the clinic’s lack of professional providers, reduction of services, and need for an urgent care, weekend clinic have gone unheeded by Borrego Health trustees, particularly those representing Borrego Springs, as well as Foundation executives. Out-dated equipment such as an EKG machine, cracked surfaces on patient tables, everything from doctors’ swabs to proper emergency care have been the source of problems related by employees such as Collum and Tracy Beck. Beck, a former nurse at the clinic, pointed out she bought a wheelchair for the clinic, since it didn’t have one and wasn’t interested in purchasing.
It’s actually shocking that an organization with income of $339 million, and assets of $94 million, in 2018, can’t find funds for a wheelchair or EKG machine that works.
Borrego clinic services and equipment have been in decline for a number of years, according to former employees. This, while BCHF is the fastest growing healthcare foundation in the United States and, also, the most expensive in terms of federal and state reimbursements.
The Foundation’s income increased by $100 million, in 2018, up 50 percent over 2017 income. Yet, as BCHF income jumped spectacularly on an annual basis, there have been no funds to improve The Borrego Springs Clinic, and make it the first-class clinic the community envisions and needs.
At the time of the firings, the Foundation was closing a purchase of yet another clinic in Palm Springs. BCHF had applied for and received a $3 million, federal Paycheck Protection Loan, and $4 million from CARES. Officials refused to acknowledge receiving these funds when asked by the Borrego Sun, or that there was, indeed, money enough to keep Borrego’s professionals employed.
Particularly egregious are the extremely generous salaries being paid to members of the Foundation’s executive team, including two Chief Medical Officers, earning over $600,00 per year for working “40 hours a week,” recruiting, training and scheduling doctors. One might think that one of the two might have found the time or the incentive to ensure the Borrego clinic was covered by a doctor during Huot’s four-month absence. Indeed, many sources within the Foundation question what Dr. Dauod Ghafari and Dr. Alfredo Ratniewski actually do for such generous salaries. Dr. Ratniewski, supposedly, visits the El Cajon Clinic a couple times a month so it can be reported he sees patients as part of his 40-hour-weekly work schedule.
After the Sun’s reporting, both doctors, Ghafari and Ratniewski, resigned. However, they are still drawing salaries of $400,000, with Dr. Ratniewski, reportedly, claiming he’s an independent contractor. The advantage to this is that he doesn’t have to be identified in the BCHF, IRS-990 tax filings.
The pandemic created chaos at the Borrego Clinic, with no licensed medical providers, and telehealth professionals from other clinics, standing in for the shortage in Borrego. At the time, no resident doctor was appointed to serve in Dr. Huot’s absence. Many patients contacted the Sun, regarding regular confusion and delay’s filling necessary medications, long waits for making appointments through telehealth, or on site, and lack of follow-ups with substitute professionals provided by BCHF. The complaints have slowed maybe due to acceptance of less as the new normal, or just exhaustion from expecting better.
In the meantime, specialty doctors, pediatricians, dermatologists, nutritionists, etc. had already previously lapsed on their monthly appointments. No one knows why. Yet the Clinic continues to advertise a long list of diverse medical and mental health services on its website.
The Clinic is currently operating without resident mental health professional, resident nurse practitioners, or needed medical support staff for Dr. Huot.
In June, Borrego Health announced the hiring of a new doctor – Dr. David Flick, who is seeing patients three days a week. Word is, people like him. In addition to Dr. Flick, Unneetha Pruitt, nurse practitioner, and women’s health specialist, is seeing patients twice a month. And Dr. Brenda Figueroa, head of pediatrics, will continue at Borrego, seeing patients once a week. This, according to Vitor Coral, BCHF spokesperson.
Rumors were BCHF was going to announce a new “full service” health center for Borrego, in August. The press announcement has not yet arrived.
So has the chaos at the clinic improved? The new staffing definitely falls short of the lineup required for a quality service, health care provider, especially without resident full-time staffing.
The question remains, why did BCHF abandon the local clinic, slowly reducing services, rather than improving and increasing healthcare for Borregans and vacationers? It wasn’t a question of money there’s been more than enough of that. It wasn’t about not having enough patients, producing the income needed for the Clinic to be sustainable and even warrant upgrades.
The Sun acknowledges that the front-line workers, with rare exception, at the Borrego Springs Clinic, and others that are part of the BCHF empire, are honest, hardworking, caring people, who deserve credit for the work they do. Especially, given the circumstances imposed on them by BCHF’s neglect. They work at healing people daily, without a clue to how some members of the executive leadership are turning their work into a massive fraud.
Maybe, it was, and remains that the Foundation’s real focus is to grab tax payers’ money, as quickly and simply as possible. Running local clinics, it seems, has been proving too complicated and demanding for the late Bruce Hebets’ team. Especially, when they can find short cuts with less complications. Short cuts that require little or no professional expertise to increase income for the select few.
Members of the executive team, including CEO Mikia Wallis appear committed to profiteering, even if this requires illegal abuse and manipulation of the federal and state funded programs.