Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Nothing Here to See…

 

Last updated 12/9/2020 at 10:06am



According to reliable sources, Dan Anderson, chairman of the Borrego Community Health Foundation (BCHF) Board of Trustees, is telling people, including federal officials, the FBI, and DOJ investigations of the Foundation are limited to a few dentists. Same story Daryl Priest, owner of Premier Healthcare Management, is sticking with. Five months of Borrego Sun investigations into fraud, misappropriations of funds, paying ridiculously, outlandishly high salaries to people, like Dr. Alfredo Ratniewski, who doesn’t work, and deceased former CEO Bruce Hebets, disclosed as working 40 hours a week for six months after he died, and so much more, tell a different story.

Recognizing Anderson’s desire to downplay the investigation for staff morale and patient confidence, wrong doing by the Foundation’s officers is more than an inconvenience stirred up by the Borrego Sun. In statements behind the scenes, the chairman of the BCHF has been dismissing the Sun and San Diego Union-Tribune articles, exposing illegal activities, as untrue.

While Anderson may want a return to the normalcy of the past, the ongoing investigations, more than research by the Sun, will determine the future for the Foundation, as well as veracity of the newspaper’s articles.

As for Anderson’s claim, the case is only about a few dirty dentists, the Sun would not presume to know the perimeters of the FBI case. However, denying the legal and ethical abuses by BCHF officers is not going to solve the Foundation’s problems.

Chairman Anderson is always welcome to deny, explain or correct, any disclosure by the Sun. He can use the paper as a forum to show how he will lead the clinic’s into a new and healthy direction. However, he has resisted answering questions or coming forward with useful facts or information about the investigation.

A discussion of the Foundation’s problems is long overdue. The public, specifically, the patients, taxpayers that pay for the insurance that fed the illegal profits, and hardworking employees, deserve to hear from Anderson, as spokesperson for BCHF.

If Anderson wants to correct or fact check statements in the newspaper, he’s free to do so, and the Sun will correct and acknowledge any errors. If he wishes to question an opinion, the Sun, like the over 1,000 people the Foundation serves, is all ears.

The need to air and fix the Foundation’s issues are not about Dan Anderson, or Borrego Sun. They are, rather, about the lives, well-being, and money of people that have been cheated from adequate health care for years. So speak up Chairman Anderson, there’s plenty of questions still to be answered, including: how are the Trustees going to move the organization forward and rid it of the shadow of incompetence, fraud, profiteering over patient’s health care, and secrets hidden from the public for too long.

Despite, the cheery characterization of the investigation by Dan Anderson, things are not going to go well for a number of people. While Premier’s dentists are definitely a sore point with the feds and state, there were plenty of other violations in the 2018 – 19-BCHF, IRS-990 report alone. There were violations of Medicaid and Medicare laws and regulations applicable to a non-profit health network, disclosed by the Sun and San Diego Union-Tribune that were all signed off on by Anderson and the Foundation’s financial officer, Diana Thompson.

Signing a tax report means that you approve, standby, and have verified its accuracy. Anyone that approved or participated in the latest BCHF IRS-990 should be worried. Plus, the Trustees have ultimate responsibility for overseeing the CEO, finances and policies of the Foundation, according to federal law and could be liable.

What about employees working at the Foundation’s clinics, pharmacies and dental offices? They must be concerned, no doubt aware of the investigation through the news or rumors, or both. Wouldn’t it be appropriate for Anderson, or the new CEO to provide them with a real explanation about the investigation?

Granted there are legal issues about individuals that cannot be disclosed, but employees deserve a right to have accurate information about the investigation. They should not be told as others are: “No big deal, nothing to see here.” When people’s livelihoods and careers are at risk, it’s only right to give them some accurate information. However, since keeping secrets from employees, and the public has allowed BCHF to get by with fraudulent practices for so many years, the community can hope, but, it’s not likely they’ll change.

If Anderson is concerned about the truth and continuing to operate quality health services, as he claims, it would seem transparency is in order.

Time to move on from “there’s nothing here to see but a few crooked dentists,” to how does the organization get fixed. Specifically, how does the Borrego Springs Clinic get fixed after being drained of resources, including the firing of key medical personnel in May? Among all the legal violations, the saddest part of the BCHF scam is the fact that key officers, including some trustees, were not interested in delivering health care, only making money. In addition to the cruel dismissal of Jan Jones and Dr. Pam McEvoy, another doctor contacted the Sun with his story.

Dr. Anthony Bullum, from the Foundation’s Thermal clinic, was also fired in May. He was earning $139,000 annually. The doctor was not upset about being fired, or the fact he was only making $139,000, while BCHF medical officers were making $600,000 plus. Rather, he was genuinely worried about the people depending on him. As the only doctor in that tiny clinic, he wanted to know who was going to care for his patients. The cruel answer from BCHF officers: “Not our problem.”

Given BCHF’s history, it can be assumed many other clinics are suffering from neglect. Except, perhaps, for the private clinics operating independently, and as BCHF in name only, using the Foundation’s non-profit status to access Medicaid and Medicare. It’s the same scam used with the dentists. Instead of private dentists, Premier Healthcare Management recruits, vets, and certifies private doctors that then qualify as a clinic to charge Medicaid and Medicare as BCHF, a FQHC federal non-profit.

Contracting with Premier to perform these functions does not let the Foundation off the hook for its legal obligations to ensure the dentists, or doctors are licensed, responsible, honest, keeping and invoicing accurate billings, and providing an appropriate level of service for patients.

As now known, Premier took a fee from the private dentists before forwarding billings to the governments. BCHF also took a fee before passing the insurance money on to dentists and doctors. The responsibility for accuracy of these billings belongs to both Premier and BCHF. The fact some dentists are being investigated for false patient claims doesn’t relieve BCHF of its responsibilities under federal and state law.

An example of Hebets’ former CEO Mikia Wallis’, and Diana Thompson’s lack of commitment to community health care can be found in discussions of what would happen should Premier’s Daryl Priest, the main supplier of independent contract dental and medical services (and money), die or quit managing on behalf of the Foundation.

BCHF hired a lobbying firm. Something they failed to disclose to the IRS, until the Sun reported it. The firm was hired to ensure that the Foundation could take advantage of the new veterans’ bill – The Mission Act, expanding private care options for veterans through the new Veterans Community Care Program. Now the VA will pay for veterans to see non-VA doctors if they have to wait longer than 20 days, or drive more than 30 minutes for primary, or mental health care. An additional bill provided for a pilot study for private dental care.

The new legislation also allows veterans to go to a non-VA, urgent-care clinic at VA expense without prior approval. VA officials estimated the new rules would increase the number of veterans eligible for VA sponsored care to as many as 2.1 million. The lobbying firm’s disclosures show who they lobbied, and what legislation they were targeting. Surprise it was specifically the guy in charge of the VA, and marshalling the legislation through congress. Hebets, never one to overlook an opportunity to make money, was obviously interested in making sure the bill secured BCHF as a qualified provider.

So Hebets’ default was to turn community health clinics into veterans’ care clinics. He bragged to a select group of Trustees that BCHF was set up to take advantage of the bill. Thus, keeping the payroll and money coming in. Good thing for veterans some of the Hebets’ crew are gone. They would have cheated the veterans, as they have cheated community patients.

However, there’s no evidence the old gang of corrupters is gone, off the payroll, or removed from influencing policy. Anderson still hasn’t responded regarding the status of Mikia Wallis, Dr. Ratniewski, and others, who assisted Hebets in his profiteering misadventures. Also, the Sun is still waiting for Anderson to provide the internal report by attorneys he hired to investigate Premier and other issues after the Sun’s reporting of wrong doing. He did at one time say, the Sun could see the report and make it public. Doubtful that will happen.

So, not only is Anderson giving out false information about the investigation, but is withholding evidence from the public.

Why keep up the charade? Why not come clean, clean house and invest in real healthcare for the Foundation’s underserved populations? It’s worthy work.

Former and current officers of BCHF are on the record as complicit in the Premier scheme to have independent contractors run clinics under BCHF’s banner, so they could qualify for non-profit, taxpayer-paid insurance. But as the Sun has reported there was so much more. Why isn’t Anderson, with the responsibility to hire and fire CEO’s, doing the right thing and hiring a real health care administrator with experience in running a large network of health providers to heal the organization, instead of an ob-gyn doctor, barely out of med school with no administrative credentials.

Trust in the services provided by BCHF, already at an all-time low, according to a past public survey, is being further eroded by the investigations. Anderson needs to be standing in front of the line, making changes to rebuild credibility and quality service, not trying to protect the status quo.

For Borrego Springs, Dr. Carrolee Barlow, local organizations and highly respected medical professionals are continuing talks on how, not just to save, but upgrade the clinic to make it both sustainable financially and staffed with personnel and equipment that meet the specific needs of Borrego Springs residential/tourist community. The group has even been able to attract a credible candidate for BCHF CEO.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Barlow, a communication from COO Mark Connelly stated, BCHF is “not interested in talking to the group,” despite earlier expressions of interest. The group’s proposal was published in a past Borrego Sun article.

Members of the group have nationally recognized medical and administrative credentials, and professional respect, which is needed to restore trust and quality services. They’re joining forces with others of like minds and interests in saving Borrego’s clinic and health care services. With the Foundation discredited, they believe it’s time the community came together to take on the planning and responsibility for providing healthcare, through a credible medical center guided by real professionals.

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