BCHF: So, Are They Open or Not?


Last updated 1/27/2021 at 1:18pm

People contact the Borrego Sun regularly with questions about the clinic. They ask, “Why aren’t they answering the phone?” Or, “Is the clinic still open?” And now, “When can we get our coronavirus vaccinations?”

The Sun takes answering questions from the public very seriously. However, most questions about the clinic are impossible to answer factually, without contacting Borrego Health officers. Unfortunately, they aren’t allowed, or won’t speak to the press. There’s a public relations/crisis management person, who lives in a parallel universe and doesn’t know or care about the truth. He’s paid to obfuscate and contain. Then, there’s the person most accountable, Dan Anderson, chairman of the Borrego Health Board of Trustees. He does respond occasionally. The Borrego Community Health Foundation (BCHF) won’t get any awards for transparency. The organization too often seems to forget that the personnel exist to serve public health needs, which includes supplying timely information and responding to patients’ concerns.

In addition to questions, the Sun receives information from clinic employees and former employees about abuses and strange happenings. Again, confirming facts is difficult when the people in the know don’t want to talk. For example, the Sun has been told that administrative assistants have been let go. That could be one explanation for the back log of clinic phone calls. Also, a clinic has been closed in Riverside County. There may be more clinics closing and more personnel fired due to the instability of Borrego Health’s income, resulting from the FBI and DOJ investigations of fraud. But Borrego Health isn’t talking.

The ability of the BCHF’s clinics to continue servicing its bloated empire is definitely facing financial issues without Medi-Cal insurance reimbursements. Will the Borrego Springs clinic be the first or last to go? This question deserves an answer, because it involves the lives of people dependent on the local clinic for mental and physical health.

Many people who live in Borrego Springs don’t have the financial or transportation options to go elsewhere. The Borrego community needs to also understand the crisis facing the Foundation, which is not just about the local clinic, but involves oversight and funding responsibilities for the entire network of Borrego Health facilities and services.

Borrego Health Trustees need to recognize that only the facts can ensure local communities are prepared for the changes that are coming, either in new non-profit providers, or by creating home-grown, community-based coalitions prepared to step in to continue health services when necessary. Just as patients with Medi-Cal insurance should have been advised that the state is no longer accepting medical claims, and what exactly that means, is the right thing to do. Meeting the health needs of people should take precedent over maintaining a low profile to protect individuals being investigated for crimes, and, who don’t want to talk to the press.

This week’s question seemed to particularly important, since getting vaccinations will be a life or death reality for some, especially the elderly. When it was announced vaccinations would be available to those 65 and older, smart people, seeking protection from the deadly disease, jumped on the bandwagon. Only thing, there was no bandwagon, and there had not been a peep from Borrego Health.

When the Borrego Sun became concerned about the lack of information about the vaccines, it seemed appropriate to ask Dan Anderson about Borrego Health’s role in vaccinating. And if, and when, Borrego’s elderly population could look forward to being vaccinated? When contacted, Anderson admitted he didn’t know what was up with the vaccines. He referred the question to Mark Connelly, the Foundation’s Chief Operations Officer. Connelly did respond in a timely and informative manner, and after responding to the Sun, he decided to notice the larger community with an announcement.

The point of this story is: The community’s only, health care provider should be leading the charge to get people inoculated. The coronavirus is upending everyone’s life in Borrego, and devastating the town’s fragile economy. Borrego Health is always MIA, only willing to enlighten the community when pushed by the local newspaper. The Trustees need to hire a patient advocate to remind the foundation’s officers that they’re paid to heal and prevent disease. Clinic spokespersons need to step up, rather than run from the front lines in the battle against the pandemic.

Borrego Springs has been fortunate that the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund, stepped in to fill the void left by the clinic. The Borrego Springs Coronavirus Task Force, chaired by Bruce Kelley, continues to aggressively and proactively advocate and educate through the website and town hall zoom meetings.

Thus, it is, the Sun is cautious and critical of Borrego Health’s pattern of only releasing critical information when pressured or pushed. The latest announcement to the community, explained the clinic, or, maybe the entire network of facilities – it wasn’t clear – received only 100 doses. Those doses, were received from the County of San Diego, the Foundation’s source of vaccine for Borrego Health clinics and providers in this county.

Borrego Health operates healthcare services in multiple counties. The assumption is, those other counties, like Riverside, Imperial, San Bernardino, will likewise have responsibility to supply to the foundation’s clinics in their region. Or will they?

As explained by Connelly, the doses will all be going to health care workers, which is the first tier of the federal-and state-mandated phase of injections. Any remaining dosage will go to patients. Borregans are invited to sign up with the clinic, assuming the next rounds of vaccines will be made available to older people, and will actually be a large enough supply to accommodate Borrego Health’s many facilities. If not, what locations will receive priority?

In fairness to Borrego Health, the screw ups in the timely delivery of the vaccine, and shortage of doses was created higher up the supply food chain by the federal government.

However, allocation of limited supplies will be up to Borrego Health. Will the Foundation’s leaders prioritize Borrego Springs, given the community’s unique geographical distance from other private and public health providers; burdened with deep pockets of poverty, and a working class of recently unemployed? Also given the Foundation’s financial and legal problems, how will Borrego Health overcome the consequences of the fraud investigation that is currently impacting populations, needing Borrego Health’s services the most? Owning up to the impact of the investigation and informing their employees and patients of what the future holds seems, not only fair, but would be a hopeful sign of redemption.

There’s a serious issue of trust. The vaccines are meant to be free to all Americans, with population access delineated in the phases advanced by the CDC, state and county governments. There are no exceptions for wealth or status. Taking into account Borrego Health’s history of abusing their patients’ government insurance, and draining clinics of resources for personal gain, can the Borrego Health leaders be trusted to put patients at the head of the vaccination line? Will the officers that created and contributed to a business culture designed to take financial advantage of the foundations non-profits status, actually be able to change their bad habits, and rise to meet this serious health crisis? Have the top levels of administration – benefit rich officers – learned a lesson with the investigation?

Or, will the same personnel take personal advantage, and secure the priceless vaccines for themselves, their friends and family first, exhausting supplies intended for employees and the vulnerable elderly? How will anyone know in the current chaos of distribution, which lends itself to abuse? Who will be holding them accountable?

Last but not least, Borrego Health leaders have a long record of abuse, and little or no record indicating a change of heart, or hope of redemption for their past patterns of unethical and illegal behavior.

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