Borrego Sun - Since 1949

By Ellen Fitzpatrick
Former Editor of the Borrego Sun 

Common Man Meets Machinator


Last updated 12/31/2020 at 12:51am

As the FBI raids and uncovers gross criminal malfeasance at the Borrego Community Health Foundation (BCHF), I applaud the efforts and superb writing of Borrego Sun reporter Nikki Symington for bringing this story along to a conclusion, where we as a community, can begin to transition back to hav-ing proper medical care in the valley. I have full faith in the benefactors and trained professionals that exist in our circles of contact that can resuscitate this operation and establish a fully functioning system of real care.

My first job in Borrego Springs was as a volunteer file clerk at the Medical Center, under Catherine Taubb, which led to a paying job at Dawn Zimmerman's Pharmacy. I was steeped in a personal story of medical malpractice and drawn to help in some capacity. My encounter with the medical Center CEO in 2009 was the impetus for what has now become a massive FBI raid.

Early in 2009, my friend Thom Keyes was having some difficulty breathing and wanted to have a chest x-ray. (He has a history of COPD and asthma.) He had been escorted out of the Borrego Springs Medical Center (BSMC) last time he visited requesting an x-ray, by the financial "gatekeeper" in the front office, who said to him, "Do you think this is a f**king free clinic?"

So Thom gathered what cash he had: an uncounted bank bag full of tip coin from his local bartend-ing job. He asked me to accompany him when he returned for the x-ray. Paying at the front desk with a bag of coins, he would, no doubt, not be getting a receipt for payment, so he asked me to snap a picture as proof of payment.

He was called back for the x-ray as I remained in the front wait-ing room. Immediately, I could see two female employees looking and pointing at me, having a some-what frantic discussion behind the financial office windows. This was disturbing, and I chose to relocate to the secondary waiting room.

Shortly, the CEO of the Foundation, Bruce Hebets, confront-ed me. A sheriff's deputy accompa-nied him. I was at once aghast and amused at how my friend's x-ray visit had suddenly become an inci-dent requiring law enforcement and the Big Cheese!

Hebets was livid. As the officer stood by, somewhat aghast him-self, Hebets interrogated me. "Why are you taking pictures?" he asked angrily. "Why is he paying with change?" "He was told, no cash, no service, and the coins were all he had. The girl up front accepted the money. She did not seem to have a problem with taking his cash," I replied. "Why did you take a picture of that?" he demanded. "I don't know! Because he wanted me to," I said, and he came back with, "You can't take pictures in MY CLINIC!" I said, "I did not see any signs stat-ing that." To which he reiterated, "Well you cannot take pictures any-where in inside MY clinic."

Thom then emerged from the x-ray room, completely oblivious of what had just occurred. He laughed and said to the officer, "I didn't do it, I swear." He had no clue the officer was there for him. Hebets then got chesty with Thom, put his finger in his face and growled, "You will NOT cause a ruckus in my clinic!" To which Thom replied, "I did not know I was."

We were both quickly ushered out the back door by this man who really doth protest too much! His behavior was suspicious on its face, but then Hebets wasted no time phoning my boss, Judy Meier, at the Borrego Sun. (I was serving as layout artist at the time, in my 11th year of employment there).

The following morning, Judy con-fronted me, informing me of Hebets' phone call and asking whether I had represented myself as a reporter. "Absolutely not. I am not a reporter. I was there to support a friend, and I cannot be responsible for another man's perspective and paranoid suppositions," I said, "But Judy, you've got to wonder why this guy is so afraid of a reporter shooting a bag of coins!" She did not pursue a story at that time, and seemed to want to let the incident be forgotten. We never saw the chest x-ray.

In 2013, I became editor at the Borrego Sun and decided it was finally my chance to look into why the Borrego Medical Clinic was so blatant in no longer providing real medical care under this suspicious CEO. The new Sun owner, Patrick Meehan would facilitate my investigation and print whatever was discovered. I uncovered multiple shell corporations, all headed by the same individuals, exorbitant tax returns listing high-paid doctors we never saw here, a brother in Arizona who coordinated all the retirement packages, fishy prescription practices, and an uncooperative board and staff.

As we received continuous com-plaints from residents and former employees of the center, we began asking questions and reporting. Hebets responded by employing a million dollar PR man to print a newsletter touting the wonders of BCHF. We polled the town's most influential residents and business owners about their personal night-mares at the clinic and printed their testimonials. I left the Sun in 2016 to pursue my own business.

In 2020, new Sun reporter Nikki Symington stepped up the level of investigative reporting, and is getting proper results. Do not fret folks, we cannot lose something we did not have! The Medical Center was just a fa├žade for greedy hogs at the government trough, since a retired cop decided to make Borrego his b*tch. We must replace this mess with a functioning entity for the good of the community.