BCHF: Looking for Good News – An Editorial
Last updated 12/9/2021 at 11:06am
There’s been a kerfuffle on Borrego’s social media over how the bad news the Borrego Sun is constantly reporting about the Borrego Springs Community Health leadership is damaging the morale of the Borrego Springs clinic’s employees. Then, there are those who claim to be hesitant to go to the clinic based on all the “negative news.” Good news versus bad news is a matter of perspective; is almost always subjective; and limited to selectively choosing information that supports personal biases. Personal attacks on the reporter and publisher are non-starters. However, employee morale and the clinic’s future deserve discussion. That’s assuming by the use of the word “negative,” people are referring to the facts about fraudulent and illegal activities of some former BCHF CEO’s, officers and private contractors exposed by the Borrego Sun.
Actually, anyone, who is rightfully concerned with the plight of clinic employees, the quality of care currently available, and the future of the clinic, should reach out to the Board of Trustees for answers. Employee morale is the responsibility of the Board and CEO, Dr. Edgar Bulloch. Only the Board of Trustees has the authority to initiate programs to boost morale and win back client trust.
However, the welfare and future of the clinic should be a primary concern of everyone in Borrego. Given the crisis the leaders of Borrego Health will have to deal with on their watch, Borregans need to stay alert and informed of actions by the Trustees that may impact individual clinics, like Borrego. Whether the information is “Bad “or “Good” is not the point. The point is, does this information help the community assess the challenges or opportunities to protect health care in Borrego? And, all vital information should be shared with the community by the Board; and not just left to the newspaper to take the rap for reporting unpleasant facts.
Without the opportunity to deal with bad news and what it means to the Borrego Clinic, there can be no understanding of the legal and financial complexities that need to be resolved. Nor can the community develop a realistic approach to solving challenges at the leadership, or grassroots level that are currently, and will continue to have serious repercussions.
So, ask them. They have phone numbers and emails. If you don’t know their names, you haven’t done your homework. The Board Members’ names are disclosed on the BCHF website under “Our Leadership.” If you haven’t demanded transparency about what’s happening, then you have been negligent.
Hold them accountable. Ask the Board of Trustees for good news. Or, better yet, ask them to hold a public meeting in Borrego to answer local concerns about the clinic, share the good news, and be forthcoming about bad news. Dr. Bulloch has mentioned that he would be willing to convene a panel for a community meeting. Call him on it!
For the past two years, the Sun has consistently requested transparency and honest communication between the Board and the public they serve. With the exception of the new chairwoman of the BCHF Trustees, Sandra Hansberger, the responses either glossed over the issues, or there was no response at all. She has been courageous enough to open to a dialogue with the press, honestly expressing her displeasure with some of the reporting, and has worked with the paper to confirm or correct facts. Dr. Bulloch has regularly forwarded news about the clinic and the pandemic, as well as changes to the former leadership team. Albeit, it’s usually only when the Sun requests updates on the pandemic. The Sun offered Hansberger the opportunity to contribute an article about the state of affairs, as she views the current situation, including criticism about the Sun’s assessment of certain individuals. The dialogue is off and on, depending on the topic and questions asked by the newspaper.
The most recent example of Borrego Health leadership failing to be transparent and notifying the public about important events is the lawsuit accusing Daryl Priest, and the deceased, Bruce Hebets of fraud. It seems that the former CEO and Priest had a deal allowing Priest to illegally overcharge on rental leases. Or, in plain terms, Priest was profiteering through rental agreements between the two. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the law suit, filed in June 2021, appears to show that the Trustees are being proactive, attempting to recover some of the funds that rightfully belonged to the taxpayers, Medi-Cal, Medicaid and Medicare patients.
Is the lawsuit a sign that the Trustees may have woken up at last? It was good news as the first public, official recognition of fraud by Hebets and Priest. So why didn’t they announce it to the public and media? Maybe they thought it was bad news and did not want any more negative press, or they just don’t get the principles of being upfront with people. The sad news is that the lawsuit was really not the initiative of the Trustees. They were forced to take action under the state’s “Corrective Action Plan,” by the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), which oversees regulation of clinics that receive Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal. DHCS directed the Board to immediately cease and desist from paying inflated rent over standard market rates on three rental agreements. It’s a big deal because overpaying on rent is a violation of Medi-Cal and FQHC regulations. The bad news: There are likely more than these three properties where BCHF also needs to renegotiate rental leases or go to court.
The Borrego Sun found out about the lawsuit; and did what the Trustees should have done – brought it to the attention of the community and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The IRS990’s are the way taxpayers and concerned citizens can track Borrego Health’s financial transactions, and how the government’s contributions to public health were being used. Unfortunately, it was the taxpayers and government insurers that were being used. For years, Borrego Health’s tax reports purposely hid, misrepresented, and failed to disclose many items legally required for a non-profit FQHC. They, however, without a single blink, proudly boasted about the mind-boggling growth of their contract dental practice, and the outrageous amounts of money some dental contractors were making. Disclosure of illicit dental management practices by the Sun and other obvious violations apparent in the tax reports, eventually caught the attention of the regulators and the FBI. Has anyone in Borrego besides the staff of the Borrego Sun read the 2019 tax returns? It’s a public document. Ask for it.
A newspaper doesn’t expect to be exalted for exposing crime. On the other hand, it doesn’t expect to be blamed for the consequences, resulting from the crooks getting caught.
Arrogance by those who corrupted their mission to provide quality primary health care to the underserved and financially challenged, was, no doubt, the reason former officers and Trustees constantly blew off the Sun’s request for comments or explanations. They had not been caught for years, and assumed a few stories by a small local newspaper wasn’t going to upset the golden apple cart. They would have been right. Media research shows it takes a massive, consistent amount of coverage of a story to attract public attention, let alone even a cursory understanding or reaction. If the Sun hadn’t persisted in disclosing new facts that raised questions of fraud for two years, BCHF would still be conducting business as usual. Sooner or later, the health insurance police would have caught the culprits and stopped the underground money mill. But not before millions more of public health care funds had been siphoned off into private pockets.
The new Board of Trustees no longer has a free hand to do as they wish, or simply put behind them the years of fraud, and move on, as if nothing happened. Some locals would prefer they did. Fortunately, they are under disciplinary supervision by the state. Currently, state-selected monitors are observing, and directing the Trustees and CEO, to refocus leaderships’ adherence to Borrego Health’s primary purpose and reason it has the exalted FQHC status. In case it has gotten lost, the mission of a FQHC is to provide quality primary care to the underserved, and those without the means to pay the overpriced costs of health care. For anyone that doesn’t know the definition of PRIMARY CARE, and the range of services allowed, there’s a number of very informative explanations on the Internet.
Even today, the new Trustees are having difficulty accepting and acting on what they must know is true. They would probably have remained silent if DHCS was not forcing them to comply to a “Corrective Action Plan.” The non-negotiable plan includes, placing professional monitors in the organization to oversee its operations and officers. The monitors have the authority to fire individuals and make immediate changes. After a period of reviewing and working with Borrego Health’s officers and Trustees, the monitors made recommendations for future changes. The recommendations were then reviewed and adopted by DHCS, and passed onto Borrego Health Trustees and CEO to make the prescribed changes, in very short time frames, ranging from 30 to 90 days.
Whether the limitations of funding primary care only, as the legal basis for FQHC providers, is a good or bad policy is another discussion entirely. However, right now, it’s the prevailing law. Laws that state and federal regulators are sworn to defend. They are the same laws that Boards of Trustees are expected to enforce and abide by.
Sometimes, bad news is actually good news. Especially, when it offers an opportunity to correct illegal behavior, reconcile conflicting facts and opinions; and lead to a real community debate about the realities that will determine the future of health care in Borrego Springs. The community has always had to provide for itself. Hence the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund (BVEF), holding money bequeathed to the community by wealthy individuals to provide health care. Instead of wishing the inconvenient truths to go away and be replaced by good news, or fantasies of “better days,” Borrego Springs needs to do what it has always done – take care of business.
The entire six-page, DHCS, Corrective Action plan for Borrego Health is available on the Borrego Sun website. It’s full of insights based on corrective recommendations as to how so much fraud could go on for so long; and provides a blueprint to monitor Borrego Health leadership as it moves from its past poor performance into the future.